September 16, 2019

Israeli film makes Oscars shortlist

“Foxtrot,” Israel’s entry in the Oscar race for best-foreign language film, has made the shortlist of nine movies among submissions from 92 countries.

Directed by Samuel Maoz and starring Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler, “Foxtrot” is a superb and wrenching film about parental grief at the death of a soldier son, the joys and stresses of marriage, the boredom of army life, and how Israel’s occupation humiliates the occupied and hardens the occupiers.

In a previous phone interview with the Journal, Maoz described his film as “the dance of a man with his fate … there are many variations to this dance, but they end up at the same starting point.”

The film has come under fire by Miri Regev, Minister of Culture and Sports in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet. “It is inconceivable,” Regev declared publicly, “that movies which shame the reputation of the Israel Defense Forces … and that are supported [financially] by the state… are selected to showcase Israel cinema abroad.”

In the interview, Maoz did not directly address Regev’s criticism, but declared, “When my brothers are dying, I have the right to make such a movie.”

The German movie “In the Fade,” which also made the cut, addresses the rise of neo-Nazism in present-day Germany, dramatized through the murder by a neo-Nazi couple of a German woman, her Kurdish husband and their small son.

Director Fatih Akin, a German-born citizen of Turkish descent, attributed the growing neo-Nazi sentiment mainly to hostility to the large number of refugees, mainly from Muslim countries, admitted into Germany.

“We are seeing the rise of a new racism in Germany, based on the fear that the existing German identity will be altered by the refugees,” Akin said in a phone interview.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of the Global Social Action Agenda for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, commented that hate groups everywhere “have perfected the delivery system” of their anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish messages through the use of social and other media.”

In contrast to nearly every other year since the end of World War II, none of the 92 entries deal with the Holocaust or the Hitler era. This may well indicate that to a new generation the horrors of the 1930s and ‘40s are now ancient history.

Still, that doesn’t mean that there were no international films of note on the subject. The outstanding Hungarian film “1945” deals with the return of a Jewish father and son to their native Hungarian village, immediately after the end World War II in 1945. The movie vividly portrays the resultant fear of the village’s gentile residents, who had helped themselves to the homes and goods of their expelled Jewish neighbors, and are now in a panic at the prospect of having to return the looted goods.

Unfortunately, each country is allowed only one entry, and Hungary instead chose “On Body and Soul.” The film, which also qualified for the shortlist, focuses on an unusual romance between two workers in an animal slaughterhouse.

Problems of the Middle East get a close-up in Lebanon’s “The Insult,” also among the chosen nine films. The movie is directed by Ziad Doueiri, who earlier got into hot water in his country for shooting an earlier film in Israel.

In “The Insult,” a dispute between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee escalates into an acrimonious national dispute threatening a social explosion in divided Lebanon.

Other films and countries on the Oscars shortlist are “A Fantastic Woman” (Chile), about the tribulations of a young transgender woman;

“Loveless” (Russia), which takes a harsh look at Russian society; “The Wound” (South Africa), exploring issues of masculinity in the story of a closeted gay man; and “The Square” (Sweden), a sharp satire of the art world.

The nine shortlisted films will be winnowed down to five when nominations in all Oscar categories are announced on Jan. 23. Academy Award winners will get to clutch their trophies on March 4 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, during a glamor-filled evening televised to 225 countries and territories around the globe.