Israel has worked hard to shed its old image of producing cheesy ethnic insider, one or no-joke movies.
Today’s Israeli movie scene has produced some very creative, critically acclaimed on an international level. There are many dozens of quality films that have been produced in Israel in the past decade.
Highlighted here are five of the top modern movies filmed here in Israel in recent years. All of these films are must-sees.
1. The Band’s Visit – 2007 ????? ???????
This movie won Best Picture in 2007 in Israel’s equivalent of the Academy Awards. Starring popular and acclaimed Israeli actor Sasson Gabai, (The Impossible Spy, Rambo III, Made in Israel).
Synopsis: An Egyptian Police Force band come to Israel to play at the inaugural ceremony of an Arab arts center, yet end up lost in the wrong town with a similar sounding name.
Film critic Roger Ebert gave this film four stars and sums it up well:
They are in the middle of the Israeli desert, having taken the wrong bus to the wrong destination. Another bus will not come until tomorrow. “The Band’s Visit” begins with this premise, which could supply the makings of a comedy, and turns into a quiet, sympathetic film about the loneliness that surrounds us. Oh, and there is some comedy, after all.
2. Beaufort (2007) – This Oscar nominated film for Best Foreign Picture is the story of a group of Israeli soldiers stationed at an outpost prior to the withdrawal of forces from Lebanon in 2000. This movie cuts into the pathos of Israelis and their understanding about war, life in the Middle East, and obligation to country.
New York Times review aptly remarks that this is not so much a war movie as a study on human nature and inner feelings.
The men spend most of their time inside its heavily fortified walls, trundling down coffin-shaped corridors in spacesuitlike combat gear and bracing for the next round of attacks from an invisible enemy. Their lives are governed by tedium, claustrophobia and anxiety, and yet they clearly feel something like affection for the bleak, isolated place that has become their home.
Beaufort Movie Trailer
3. Ushpizin (2004) – IMDB Listing Starring Shuli Rand and Michal Bat Sheva Rand (who are married in real life).
“Ushpizin” is groundbreaking on more than one count. It is a rare collaboration between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis and one of the first movies filmed in the insular Jerusalem neighborhood Mea Shearim with ultra-Orthodox actors.
Shuli Rand won the Israeli Academy Award for Best Actor in this film. This film also has an excellent musical score, including the popular “Atah Kadosh” from Israeli Religious Rocker Adi Ran.
Adi Ran – V’ata Kadosh:
4. The Syrian Bride (2004) – Clara Khoury stars in this semi-political, semi-humanitarian, semi-comedic film of a young Druze woman (Arab, but not muslim) who lives in a Druze village in the outermost portion of the Golan Heights, on the Syrian border, who travels to Syria to marry a Soap Opera star there. This tragic comedy touches on the heart strings as she says goodbye for good to her family, since she will be leaving Israel for Syria, to live with her new husband, in a country that Israel is at war with. Syrian Bride was nominated for 7 Israeli Academy Awards.
5. Medurat Hashevet (Campfire) (2004) – Set in 1981 in the early days of Israeli settling (occupation) of Judea and Samaria (The West Bank). Directed by Joseph Cedar (Beaufort), drew fire from the right-wing settler movement as the film portrays them as opportunists looking for good real estate deals rather than being motivated by political and religious beliefs. The Israeli secular crowd loved this film.
Its broader political implications within Israel notwithstanding, “Campfire” offers an outsider an intimate portrait of family members living in uncomfortably close proximity and straining against one another during a difficult period of transition. Rachel, a tough, attractive woman whose husband died of cancer a year earlier, is tugged this way and that by conflicting desires. She longs for the security and companionship of the community. But because her first marriage was unhappy, she is unwilling to settle for another husband who won’t deliver the romantic fireworks the first one didn’t provide.
Winner of 7 Israeli Academy Awards, and nominated for another 8.
Honorable Mention: Etz Limon (Lemon Tree) (2008) – Directed by Eran Riklis (Syrian Bride). This year’s most popular film. Based on a true story, a Palestinian widow cultivates a lemon tree grove next to her house. Her new next door neighbor, Israel’s Defense Minister, Israel Navon, threatens to have the tree grove uprooted because of security concerns. This is another tragic-comedy-tear jerker-veilied left-of-center-political film. The acting is very emotional, but the message is a bit over-the-top left wing borderline propaganda siding with the Palestinians.
This film was nominated for 7 awards at Israel’s Academy Awards, and won at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival.
Also See: Top 5 Israeli Movies of All Time