To know what national pride is, one would have had to experience the fever that struck Israel in 1959, when film director Otto Preminger and a cast led by Paul Newman came to Israel to shoot “Exodus”. It was like an almost naive pride The excitement two years earlier that went with the opening of the cinema in Tel Aviv – a palace of unprecedented splendor – and in 1958 with the opening of the first supermarket in Tel Aviv. These events signaled the fulfillment of the Zionist dream and the transformation of Israel into a country like everyone else and made it possible to ignore the social, political, economic and security situation.
“Exodus”, based on Leon Uris’ bestseller, the premiere of which even David Ben-Gurion attended and said it was the first film he had seen in 30 years, is part of a retrospective entitled “Out Looking In: Israel in The eyes of Foreign Directors, which opened this week at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and will take place at this venue and in cinematheques throughout Israel by the end of the month. Curator is Dr. Ariel Schweitzer, a film historian who teaches at Tel Aviv University and writes criticism for the influential French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma.
Together, the films offer an intelligent, diverse and comprehensive overview of the depiction of this location in the cinema over the years – the retrospective spanned more than a century from 1897 to 2006. One reason that makes it a valuable compilation is its mix of feature films and documentaries. It’s always fascinating how the other person sees me. It is particularly fascinating in this country because this view highlights the contours of historical ambivalence – ideologically and politically – and reflects them in themselves through the prism of the other.
Exodus – דלד
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gmBfWDW9tU (/ embed)
Hope for coexistence
Heroism, willingness to make sacrifices and victimization characterize the four feature films of the retrospective. The most historically interesting, and also because it is shown relatively rarely, is “Sabra”, a picture by Polish director Aleksander Ford from 1933. The film is visually impressive, showing a group of pioneers who settled in the country they bought from Arabs who had lived on it until then. Here you can see all elements of the conflict between Jews and Arabs, which later turned into an Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ford was an admired director, whose later pictures include “The Eighth Day of the Week” based on a book by Marek Hlasko (who spent much of his short, tortured life in Israel); “The First Circle”, based on the novel by Alexander Solzhenitsyn; and “The Martytr”, which tells the story of Janusz Korczak, the Jewish doctor who accompanied the orphans he cared for to an extermination camp during the Holocaust. In Sabra, the conflict revolves around the meager water resources in Palestine during a severe drought. The Arabs are portrayed as fraudsters and savages. The orientalism that they represent contradicts the European origin of the pioneers, some of whom dream of returning to their continent of origin. The film also signals the hope of living together, which is reflected in the search for a well and in the relationship between two young people, an Arab woman and a Jewish pioneer. There’s also a rare opportunity to see some of Habimah Theater’s great actors at a young age – including Aharon Meskin, Hanna Rovina, Schimon Finkel, Raphael Klatchkin, and Yehoshua Bertonov, who have the necessary pathos.
Kirk Douglas and Milly Vitale in “The Juggler”, the first Hollywood film to be made in Israel. The Museum of Art and History of Judaism, Paris
“The Juggler,” a film made in 1953 by Edward Dmytryk (“Mutiny on the Bounty”, “The Young Lions”), was the first Hollywood film to be made in Israel. The determination of his star, Kirk Doulas, did it. Douglas plays a Holocaust survivor who was a successful juggler in Germany and came to Israel in 1949, haunted by his memories and feelings of guilt. “The Juggler”, which did not do well commercially, but is quite interesting, resembles a film noir about a Holocaust survivor who gets into trouble because his mental state is unable to distinguish between the representatives of the law in his new home and that of distinguishing Nazis.
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Douglas also starred in Melville Shavelson’s 1966 film “Cast a Giant Shadow”. It tells the story of an American army officer, Colonel Mickey Marcus, who came to Israel in 1947 to support the Haganah militia paid with his life his devotion to the Zionist vision.
Its formulaic writing and routine instructions make it the least interesting of the four feature films in the retrospective. But this was also an epic production with cameos by John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Yul Brynner and others.
The filming of the film did not, however, generate the same intoxication as “Exodus” in the Israeli public. One reason for this was that “Judith” directed by Daniel Mann (not included in the retrospective) was also shot in Israel in the same year. In it, Sophia Loren plays a Holocaust survivor who walks around the kibbutz with short shorts and fashionable sunglasses. The Israelis were far more enthusiastic about Loren who shared her favorite pasta recipes with the public than about Kirk Douglas or Senta Berger, the Austrian actress who played the woman whom married Marcus fell in love with while in Israel.
– The juggler
The juggler – דלד
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPK0eHVT7zs (/ embed)
Documentaries are more fascinating than feature films because the questions they raise address the nature, identity and future of the country more vividly. In some of them, the documentation itself is the main aspect. On Friday, viewers will have the opportunity to see the 10-minute film footage of Jerusalem, Jaffa and the Judean Desert by photographer Alexandre Promio, who was sent to the region by the fathers of Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1897. Also shown is “Life of the Jews in Palestine”, a film by Noah Sokolovsky, a Russian businessman who premiered him at the 11th Jewish Congress in Vienna in 1913. “Life” was long lost until a copy appeared in France in 1998 and was restored.
As you watch early films, it is instructive to note what they have documented and what they have omitted, whether Jews and Arabs, religious or secular Jews and long-time residents or newcomers.
The other documentaries in the retrospective are a gripping selection whose makers came to Israel to ask and explore, including Claude Lanzmann, who insisted – without question mark – in his first 1973 film, “Israel, why” open to examine the justification for the existence of the Jewish state. In 1974, immediately after the Yom Kippur War, Susan Sontag came to Israel to make a film titled “Promised Lands”, a mosaic of her impressions of traveling through the country and visiting battlefields in Sinai would have. Sontag, who also interviewed Israeli intellectuals, leaves most of the questions about the nature, identity, and future of the country open. And there was also the Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, who documented his attempt to find places for his picture “The Gospel Beyond Matthew” in Israel in a captivating film from 1963, “Location Hunting in Palestine”. The country was too modern for its purposes.
– “Pourquoi Israel / Israel, why” by Claude Lanzmann
“Pourquoi Israel / Israel, Why” by Claude Lanzmann
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Y5T5kAxeQY (/ embed)
Through the window
Two other films open and end this part of the retrospective. In 1960 Wim and Lia Van Leer invited French director Chris Marker to make a documentary in Israel. The result “Description of a Struggle” – in Hebrew “Third Side of a Coin”, a Hebrew narrative by the writer and literary critic Yaakov Malkin – is a carefree impressionistic journey through the country’s physical, human and ideological landscapes. In contrast to the walks by Lanzmann, Sontag, Pasolini and Marker, the Belgian director Chantal Akerman shot the entire picture through a window of her apartment in Tel Aviv in her impressive film from 2006 “Down There”. In the background she reads passages from her diary, wondering about her Jewish identity and the connection between the self and the other and between here and there.
– DESCRIPTION D’UN COMBAT de Chris MARKER – 1960 – Official trailer
DESCRIPTION D’UN COMBAT de Chris MARKER – 1960 -Official trailer
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlviHXs-ydE (/ embed)
Back to “Exodus”. Preminger’s film has a bad reputation in Israel, where it is considered a pro-Zionist kitsch. But it’s more interesting than people think. Conceptual and emotional ambivalence was the main feature of Preminger’s work. It can be seen in films such as “The Man with the Golden Arm”, “Advice and Approval” and “The Cardinal”, and also in one of his best pictures, “Anatomy of a Murder”, the “Exodus” and also went well before made. Some of the young film critics in France and England found that this ambivalence was Preminger’s personal handwriting and included him on the list of their favorite authors. For them, “Exodus” was an integral part of Preminger’s oeuvre.
The ambivalence also exists in “Exodus”, although it is less transparent for us than in the other films of the director, because the picture deals with this place and its history. One of the sources is the fact that at the center of the film is a non-Jewish American who is played by Eva Marie Saint and who is alien to and testifies to what is happening in the picture. It is worth giving this film another chance and perhaps discovering the ambivalence that breaks through.