November 16, 2018

Israel film academy favors women’s themes

The Israel Academy of Film has picked the country’s best movies of the year, and the winner is the female sensibility.

For many years, the Israel Academy’s choice of best feature film — and, therefore, the country’s entry for Oscar honors — has leaned toward macho soldiers and intelligence agents facing Arab/Palestinian foes.

But this year, the academy pulled a switch by choosing as its standard bearer “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.”

As the title indicates, “Gett” deals with Israel’s lopsided divorce laws, which almost invariably favor the husband’s case. The aggrieved wife is played by Ronit Elkabetz, who, with her brother, Shlomi Elkabetz, also doubled as co-director.

“Gett” is the latest in a trilogy, examining a woman’s struggle to divorce a husband who no longer loves her but who refuses to grant his wife a divorce.

The first segment, “To Take a Wife,” was released in 2004 and probes the frustrations encountered by the wife in her marriage, her request for a divorce, and the pressure from her brothers to stay in the marriage.

In the second part, “Shiva” (2008), the wife’s extended family deals with the death of one of her brothers, though she remains stuck in the marriage. The last part deals with the actual divorce trial before a rabbinical court.

A close runner-up and early favorite for best picture was “Zero Motivation,” which follows a group of bored women draftees during their service in the Israeli army.

The black comedy has been compared to Robert Altman’s “M*A*S*H” and walked off with the most Ophirs — Israel’s equivalent of the Oscar — including best director and screenplay for Talya Lavie.

Dana Ivgy, the daughter of popular actor Moshe Ivgy, received the best actress award for her performance as a malcontented soldier. In addition, she was picked as best supporting actress for her role as a developmentally disabled woman in “Next to Her,” which will be the opening presentation at the Los Angeles Israel Film Festival on Oct. 23.

Israel academy voters awarded best documentary to “The Green Prince,” which explores the actual case of Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of a founder of the Hamas terrorist organization, who worked for 10 years as an informant for the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency.

In a review of the film (Sept. 5), the Journal reported the views of director-writer Nadav Schirman, and of Gonen Ben Yitzhak, the actual Shin Bet agent who helped turn Yousef. Last week, we caught up with Yousef, now 36 and living in Southern California, and asked him how he, raised in the belief that “collaborating with Israel is more shameful than raping your mother,” could become his enemy’s prize informer. 

His decision, Yousef said, was “not based on a single event, but on a whole journey, which gradually revealed the truth to me.” He cited the Palestinian failure to deal with its social problems, instead blaming all shortcomings on external — read Israeli and American — machinations.

The real eye-opener came to Yousef while he was held in an Israeli prison alongside other Hamas militants.

“I saw that the organization my father founded, instead of bringing justice, tortured its own members, and then my eyes kept opening to other problems,” he said. “I do not believe that I betrayed the Palestinians or served the Israelis,” he added. “I believe that I have served humanity.”

The following is excerpted from the interview:

Jewish Journal: What led you to trust Shin Bet agent Gonen Ben Yitzhak, and for him to trust you?

Mosab Hassan Yousef: Trust is established with the heart, not the mind. In Gonen, I could see a heart, to see acts of kindness that transcend [the suspicions of] the mind. Over the years, he showed me examples of his big soul, so I trusted him and he trusted me.

JJ: Even so, how could you turn against your father and family?

MHY: It came to the point where I had to choose between my biological family and humanity.

JJ: Can the Muslim world and Israel ever live in peace?

MHY: I went through many mental barriers to reach my present position. If I can do it, so can others. I must keep the hope that Muslims and Jews come to see a higher truth and coexist in harmony.

JJ: Even though mankind has failed to establish harmony and peace for any length of time?

MHY: Yes, so far we have failed to reshape the human condition. We are like sheep, and sometimes the shepherd becomes our worst enemy.

JJ: Would you have a message for the Jewish community?

MHY: I send my love to the Jewish nation. I hope Muslims and others will learn to overcome pain and sorrow and turn toward a creative life.