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Feast of New Israeli Movies Coming to LA

Local movie buffs will get their first chance to view one of the latest Israeli movies, “Love It Was Not,” at two Laemmle theaters, the Royal in West Los Angeles and the Town Center in Encino, starting Nov. 5.
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October 27, 2021
“Love It Was Not”

The 94th Academy Awards, though delayed until March 27, are generating the usual speculations and rumors, among them the traditional preoccupations of this column — will Israel FINALLY win an Oscar and, in general, will Jewish talent be suitably recognized.

“Love It Was Not” is based on an actual World War II incident.

Local movie buffs will get their first chance to view one of the latest Israeli movies, “Love It Was Not,” at two Laemmle theaters, the Royal in West Los Angeles and the Town Center in Encino, starting Nov. 5.

The film revolves around the unlikely romance, set in Auschwitz, between prisoner Helena Citron, a cantor’s daughter from Slovakia, and Franz Wunsch, an SS officer in the death camp, who is charmed by her looks and lovely singing voice, Helena is so beautiful that a Nazi guard speculates that “she must have Aryan blood in her.”

Thanks to her protector, Helena and her sister survive years in Auschwitz, and even the final death march of the prisoners, as Russian troops approach.

Many years later, after Germany surrenders, Helena receives a letter from Wunsch’s wife, explaining that her husband is on trial in Austria as a war criminal, and pleading with Helena to testify on his behalf.

The film, originally a student project, was written and directed by Maya Sarfaty, is an Israeli co-production with Austria, but neither country chose it as its Oscar entry for foreign language film, now renamed “best international feature,”

“Love It Was Not,” the title of the song Helena performs for the assembled SS guards, is based on an actual World War II incident, when the word and act of love, in its loftier sense, was rarely practiced.

The Israeli film academy did not choose “Love It Was Not” as the country’s top movie of the year, thus eliminating its chance for Oscar honors.

Instead the nod went to an even more unusual film, titled “Let It Be Morning,” which was produced by and features Palestinian Arabs residing on the West Bank.

It is a tale of two brothers, one born in and a citizen of Israel, the other a resident of the West Bank. The Israeli brother travels to the West Bank to attend his brother’s  wedding, only to find that in the intervening few days Israeli soldiers have blocked the only road leading back to his hometown.

The film’s director, Eran Kolirin,  previously helmed the highly successful “The Band’s Visit,” which also treated Jewish-Arab relations with a light touch and later became an equally enjoyable Broadway musical.

In any case, the Israel film academy voted in “Let It Be Morning” to represent Israel in the Oscar race.

Judging from past incidents, the choice is likely to rile a few Israeli cabinet ministers, as well as their like-minded American Jews.

The Journal will explore the themes of the two films more thoroughly after slated interviews with the directors. 

Greg Laemmle, head of the theater chain bearing the family name, alerted the Journal to three other upcoming Israeli films.  

One is “Minyan,” set in Brooklyn of the 1980s, about a gay young Jewish immigrant and his friendship with an elderly American. The second, the documentary “Speer Goes to Hollywood,” chronicles the attempts of the Nazi armaments minister, in charge of 12 million slave laborers, to persuade Hollywood studios to make a film based on his autobiography, showing that he was really a good guy.    

The third film is “Aulcie,” which tells the story of the African-American basketball star who became an Israeli idol when he helped lead the Israeli Maccabi team to a European championship.

In the meanwhile, for readers too preoccupied with viruses and politics to keep up with approaching Academy Awards, here is the latest scoop.

The 94th Academy Awards will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on March 27. The late date was chosen to avoid conflict with other events that might detract the attention of TV viewers. One is the Winter Olympics in Beijing (Feb. 4-20) and the other the Super Bowl (Feb. 18).

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