Israelis Win at 2011 Sundance Film Festival

By Larry Mark

Two Israeli filmmakers were among the official award recipients of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which ended today.

Erez Kav-El won the award for best world cinema dramatic screenplay for his script for ”Restoration,” the only Israeli film in the official festival. He wasn’t at the ceremony, so the film’s director, Yossi Madmony, stepped up to the podium to accept the award in Erez’s behalf. Madmony is lucky he was even able to get to the awards. An hour earlier, he had locked himself out of his Park City condo. Luckily, he made it in time.

“Restoration”, which is also known in Israel as “Boker Tov Adom Fidelman,” is the magical wake up call for and story of Yaakov Fidelman (Sasso Gabay) and his Israeli shop that restores antique furniture; from the shop he can shut out the world. Yaakov knows wood. His business partner, Maxim Malamud, knows people. Actually, Maxim KNEW people. Maxim has suddenly died (after a tryst with a prostitute), and with the loss of the shop’s public face and personality, the business might not survive. Maxim provided Yaakov with the personality he never developed, sort of like the way a twin (Esau) would have taken half the assets.

Yaakov’s son, Noah (Nevo Kimchi), is an attorney with great ambitions. Noah and the quietly dour Yaakov have never been close as father and son, and one can say that Noah perceived Maxim more as his father. Noah says kaddish for the childless Maxim. Noah would prefer to close the shop, forget about restorations, and build apartments atop the workshop.

Anton (Henry David), a mysterious, homeless, former pianist enters the store and becomes Yaakov’s assistant and “new son.” Anton notices the century-old Steinway in the corner of the shop. Restoring and selling it would generate the needed cash to save the shop, but it doesn’t just need restored wood, it needs more, just like the Tin Man, Lion, and Pinocchio. Anton also eyes Noah’s very pregnant wife. Chava/Eve (Sarah Adler), a former Israeli teen idol. Notice the names… sure “Maxim” means great, “Fidelman” means faithful, but with names like Yaakov, Hava, and Noah, you know it’s gonna get very biblical… or not.

The four- piece chamber music score by Avi Belleli quietly reinforces the tensions between the four primary characters

Madmony, who previously co-directed “The Barbeque People (2003), worked on the script with Erez Kav-El for 18 months before even shooting it. His budget was $400,000. Madmony is a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem. Erez Kav-El’s previous scripts included one for “Five Hours from Paris (Hamesh Shaot m’Pariz),” a 2009 film about an Israeli cab diver who fears flying (but not Israeli traffic), who meets a Russian-born woman in a humble suburb of Tel Aviv. She is a teacher about to fly five hours to Paris.

Another script was for “Like a Fish Out of Water,” a 2007 Israeli TV comedy about a new oleh from Argentina who falls for his Israeli Hebrew teacher. Erez is on the faculty of Tel Aviv University in Ramat Aviv.

Without a hint of politics, many critics saw “Restoration” as a turning point in international Israeli cinema.

This year, the Sundance Institute partnered with the Mahindra Group, one of the largest companies in India, to create the Mumbai Mantra|Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab and the Sundance Institute|Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award. One of the five recipients was Talya Lavie for her film “Zero Motivation.” Her film is a slightly comic look at the power struggles of three female clerks over one year in an administrative office at a remote army base in the Israeli desert.

In “Zero Motivation,” three consecutive stories (“The Substitute,” “The Virgin” and “The Commander”) recount the events at an army base, but unlike other army genre films, the female clerical staff members have the lead roles. The film depicts the three soldiers’ journeys inside the maze of military bureaucracy. To paraphrase Anton Chekhov’s letter to A. S. Gruzinsky in 1889, “If you put a loaded staple gun in the first act, it better get fired in the next act.”

Talya Lavie, a resident of Tel Aviv, is a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem and studied the Bezalel Art Academy.

Mazel tov to these two winning films, and those involved in their creation.