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Israeli Cinema

Israeli Cinema

Miri Talmon
Yaron Peleg
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  • Book Info
    Israeli Cinema
    Book Description:

    With top billing at many film forums around the world, as well as a string of prestigious prizes, including consecutive nominations for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, Israeli films have become one of the most visible and promising cinemas in the first decade of the twenty-first century, an intriguing and vibrant site for the representation of Israeli realities. Yet two decades have passed since the last wide-ranging scholarly overview of Israeli cinema, creating a need for a new, state-of-the-art analysis of this exciting cinematic oeuvre.

    The first anthology of its kind in English,Israeli Cinema: Identities in Motionpresents a collection of specially commissioned articles in which leading Israeli film scholars examine Israeli cinema as a prism that refracts collective Israeli identities through the medium and art of motion pictures. The contributors address several broad themes: the nation imagined on film; war, conflict, and trauma; gender, sexuality, and ethnicity; religion and Judaism; discourses of place in the age of globalism; filming the Palestinian Other; and new cinematic discourses. The authors' illuminating readings of Israeli films reveal that Israeli cinema offers rare visual and narrative insights into the complex national, social, and multicultural Israeli universe, transcending the partial and superficial images of this culture in world media.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-73560-6
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    Miri Talmon and Yaron Peleg

    Motion fiction is, among many other things, a cultural medium for the articulation of collective identities. When we say “collective,” we mean people who experience films, interpret them, and identify with them from a certain “subject position,” which is always the intersection of individual experience and communal frameworks. Our national, ethnic, racial and religious, gender, and other communal affiliations, not necessarily in this order, guide our experience of the fictional world—the story, characters, setting, and our perception of the more subtle elements of the cinematic code, like composition and color, mise-en-scène, art, distance and angles, editing, soundtrack, and musical...

  4. Part 1. The Nation Imagined on Film

    • 1 Filming the Homeland: Cinema in Eretz Israel and the Zionist Movement, 1917–1939
      (pp. 3-15)

      The cinematic depiction of the historical return of the Jewish people to their homeland from 1917 through 1939 is the subject of this essay. After four centuries of consecutive Ottoman rule, which left a profound mark on the country, in 1917 the British conquered Eretz Israel, demarcating its political and administrative borders and shaping its regime and legal structure. These transformations contributed to the Zionist movement’s endeavor to establish the Jewish National Home and to bring about the birth of the “New Jew” in Eretz Israel. Various creative disciplines began evolving in the country, including film, which was launched not...

    • 2 Helmar Lerski in Israel
      (pp. 16-29)

      Helmar Lerski’s first book of photographs caught the imagination and the spirit of the intelligentsia of the late Weimar Republic with its mixture of reality and artifice, working-class solidarity and high art aspirations, black-and-white earthiness and ethereal lighting. Lerski’sKöpfe des Alltags(roughly translated as “Everyday Heads”) brought together intense close-up portraits of supposedly normal working people, not the dregs or the celebrities of societies but rather those nameless masses who go about their daily chores: the butcher, the baker, the charwoman, the tailor, the stoker. Marked by strong lines, weather-beaten skin, deep shadows under pensive eyes, these faces of...

    • 3 Ecce Homo: The Transfiguration of Israeli Manhood in Israeli Films
      (pp. 30-40)

      This chapter examines the metamorphosis that the image of Israeli men has undergone on the screen: from engaged, enterprising, daring, bold, brash, brave New Jews or New Hebrews—Palmakhniks (volunteer warriors in the pre-state Jewish Yishuv), soldiers, and womanizers—in earlier films to the detached, retiring, confused, tenuous, and subdued men that appear on the screen in the 1990s and 2000s. The chapter traces these changes in various films, includingSiege(Matzor, 1969),Peeping Toms(Metzitzim, 1972),The Wooden Gun(Roveh Khuliot, 1979),Time of Favor(Hahesder, 2000), andCampfire(Medurat Hashevet, 2004).

      The creation of masculine Jews in early...

  5. Part 2. War and Its Aftermath

    • 4 From Hill to Hill: A Brief History of the Representation of War in Israeli Cinema
      (pp. 43-58)
      URI S. COHEN

      This essay is not an attempt to tell the complete story of the representation of war in Israeli cinema, which is far beyond its reach. Instead of a complete history I offer a selective view of the field, deriving from the present. The films I have chosen to discuss here all seem to me to have succeeded in capturing and representing essential nodes of the Israeli culture of war as it has evolved into its present state. They also seem to me the most artistically accomplished, and the two obviously go together.

      The arc of representation is wide. It begins...

    • 5 From Hero to Victim: The Changing Image of the Soldier on the Israeli Screen
      (pp. 59-69)

      In a country with universal conscription which has been in a declared state of war since its inception—officially and frequently in actuality—it should be of little surprise that the military has figured prominently in Israeli cinema.¹ What might be somewhat surprising is that—although the army has continued to be a constant factor in Israeli life and war (despite several attempts at peace) continues to rage within and without Israel’s borders—the image and perception of the IDF have undergone profound changes in the cultural and social arenas that have manifested themselves on the Israeli screen as well....

    • 6 The Lady and the Death Mask
      (pp. 70-83)

      Many films produced in Israel in the 1960s and 1970s may be grouped within the modernist genre of film. It has been said of modernism that it is a genre of “anti-art” aimed at “negating every accepted style and, ultimately, at negating itself.”¹ The roots of that negating approach lie in ancient times, such as the Platonic idea of the “perfect being,” a being unlike anything the senses perceive. Aspiring to an artistic purity characterizes modernism, emulating the philosopher’s distant gaze, insisting on aesthetic distance. Alongside purity and aesthetic distance, modernist films have other attributes, such as elitism and an...

    • 7 Coping with the Legacy of Death: The War Widow in Israeli Films
      (pp. 84-95)

      Given Israel’s long and unresolved conflict with the Palestinians and its continuing toll on human life, one might expect that the character of the war widow would occupy an important place among the cinematic representations of the war experience in Israeli society. Yet the war widow has been a relative latecomer to Israeli films and has thus far received limited attention. During the pre-state and early state periods, the tendency was to highlight the national heroic aspects of nation building, the War of Independence and the foundation of the state and its governing organs. Israeli films, like other expressive forms...

    • 8 The Privatization of War Memory in Recent Israeli Cinema
      (pp. 96-110)

      The memory of war has been etched in the consciousness of Israel since its bloody birth in 1948. Expressions such as “war of survival” and “War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness” became central to the way Israelis perceived themselves. Yet military struggle in modern Hebrew culture became important prior to the state’s independence as part of the notion of the New Jew, who, in contrast to passive ancestors in exile, had to fight for the right to live in the old-new land. Israeli cinema did not overlook these perceptions and turned the various expressions of...

  6. Part 3. An Ethno-Cultural Kaleidoscope

    • 9 Disjointed Narratives in Contemporary Israeli Films
      (pp. 113-119)

      Ethnicity has always posed a challenge to secular national culture. Therefore it usually has been articulated in cultural production in relation to the question of nationality, often in terms of the degree of incorporation of ethnicity into the national culture. Through the character of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), an Italian American war hero who gradually becomes the head of the Corleone Mafia family and is married to an ethnically unidentified non–Italian American (Dian Keaton), Francis Ford Coppola’sThe Godfather: Part II(1974), for example, both opposes American Italian ethnicity to the American national ethos and allegorizes American politics through...

    • 10 Trajectories of Mizrahi Cinema
      (pp. 120-133)

      The popular Bourekas genre of the 1960s and 1970s, marked by its stereotypical treatment of ethnicity, is often considered the harbinger of Mizrahi cinema—a corpus of films featuring the dilemmas of a subjugated Israeli collective whose origins are in the Arab/Muslim Middle East. Although recent Mizrahi films often steer away from the hitherto derisive representations of its Mizrahi characters, the discussion of Mizrahi films from the early 1990s to the present enables us to trace the genre’s legacy and reveals the marks that the Bourekas has left on the narratives, characters, and discourses of contemporary Israeli films. My discussion...

    • 11 Immigrant Cinema: Russian Israelis on Screens and behind the Cameras
      (pp. 134-148)

      In 2005 the new reality showIsraeli Project Greenlightpremiered on local cable. As in the original American show, the prize was half a million dollars and a chance to make a first film. The competition attracted hundreds of aspiring filmmakers. Against all odds, a twenty-three-year-old Russian immigrant from the Israeli periphery, Felix Gerchikov, won. He went on to makeThe Children of USSR, which took the first prize in the drama category at the 2005 Jerusalem Film Festival. This is a story of the “Israeli dream” come true. But it is also a sign of changes in Israeli culture....

  7. Part 4. Holocaust and Trauma

    • 12 The Holocaust in Israeli Cinema as a Conflict between Survival and Morality
      (pp. 151-167)

      The global discourse on the linkage between the Holocaust and Israel is subject to intense political debates regarding the implications of the connection between the Holocaust and Israel. The spectrum of the political views ranges from support for the Jewish state because of the massive suffering of the genocide to Holocaust denials and open calls for a new Holocaust against the Jewish state. The conflicting political views suggest either historical closure or a historical cycle. Historical closure is suggested by the assertion about Jewish statehood arising out of the ashes of Auschwitz; a historical cycle underlies the observation that the...

    • 13 Near and Far: The Representation of Holocaust Survivors in Israeli Feature Films
      (pp. 168-180)

      The immigration to Israel of approximately 500,000 Holocaust survivors in the aftermath of World War II has found ample expression in Israeli cinema throughout the years. Scholars of Israeli cinema maintain that the cinematic Zionist narrative of the 1940s and 1950s described the encounter between Holocaust survivors and Israelis in a stereotypical manner. Survivors were often portrayed as people broken in body and in spirit, who needed to be transformed from a “diasporic Jew” to a Hebrew “New Jew.” These scholars further assert that over the years, especially since the late 1970s, the negative image of Holocaust survivors dissipated and...

    • 14 Homonational Desires: Masculinity, Sexuality, and Trauma in the Cinema of Eytan Fox
      (pp. 181-198)

      Zionism’s political project of liberating the Jewish people and creating a nation like all other nations was intertwined with a longing for the sexual redemption and normalization of the Jewish male body. In fin-de-siècle anti-Semitic scientific-medical discourse, the male Jewish body was associated with disease, madness, degeneracy, sexual perversity, and femininity as well as with homosexuality. This pathologization of Jewish male sexuality had also entered the writings of Jewish scientists and medical doctors, including Sigmund Freud.¹ Zionist thinkers such as Theodor Herzl and Max Nordau were convinced that the invention of a stronger, healthier heterosexual “Jewry of Muscles” not only...

  8. Part 5. Jewish Orthodoxy Revisited

    • 15 Negotiating Judaism in Contemporary Israeli Cinema: The Spiritual Style of My Father, My Lord
      (pp. 201-212)

      In reviewing the developing relationship between center and periphery within Israeli society of the past several decades, one cannot help but notice—and indeed be amazed by—a radical change in the stature of Jewish religion and religious devotion. During the nation’s early stages of evolution, Zionist discourse established the secular-socialist Sabra identity as the norm, at the price of a relative marginalization of Jewish religious sentiment. As a result of the subsequent collapse of secular Zionism as a dominant ideology, however, religion gradually obtained a position of greater influence within Israel’s sociocultural landscape. Looking back, it is possible to...

    • 16 Seeking the Local, Engaging the Global: Women and Religious Oppression in a Minor Film
      (pp. 213-224)

      Penetrating the intimacy of a world fixed in a religious time zone, otherwise hermetically sealed from its contemporary surroundings, the filmKadosh(Sacred; Amos Gitai, 1999) portrays the life of abstinence at the core of one of Jerusalem’s religiously constituted enclaves. Much like the subject of his film, Gitai’s gaze is committed to the exercise of restraint, reducing the cinematic form to the poverty of its language, to its desert, and as such rendering it barren and unfit for reproduction.¹ In this double playKadoshnever splits from that which is unique to its locality and at the same time...

    • 17 Beaufort and My Father, My Lord: Traces of the Binding Myth and the Mother’s Voice
      (pp. 225-238)

      David Grossman uses indirect speech in order to describe the thoughts of his protagonist, Ora, as she accompanies her son to the meeting point before a military operation. Two levels of significance intertwine here. On one level, the narrative describes a common Israeli practice of parents driving their sons back to the army after a weekend at home. On another level, the father’s name, Avrʾam, and that of his son, Offer (“faun” in Hebrew), clearly allude to the mythical story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis.

      Like most texts,Until the End of the Landemploys what Gérard Genette...

  9. Part 6. Filming the Palestinian Other

    • 18 The Foreigner Within and the Question of Identity in Fictitious Marriage and Streets of Yesterday
      (pp. 241-256)

      Haim Bouzaglo’sFictitious Marriage(1988) and Judd Neʾeman’sStreets of Yesterday(1989) were made during a time when the violent events of the first Palestinian uprising (Intifada) had engendered a heightened sense of mistrust in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.¹ These two films compel us to reexamine the core aspects of the Hebraic Israeli identity in relation to the Palestinian Other by using one specific device—the impersonation of a Palestinian by an Israeli character, played by a Jewish actor. Dorit Naaman maintains thatFictitious Marriagereinforces and reaffirms ethnic boundaries, that the “passing … affirms existing … hierarchical...

    • 19 A Rave against the Occupation?: Speaking for the Self and Excluding the Other in Contemporary Israeli Political Cinema
      (pp. 257-275)

      In an early scene inThe Bubble(Eytan Fox, 2006) we see Yahlli, a flamboyant Tel Aviv gay waiter, trying to dress Ashraf, a Palestinian from Nablus, to fit in at the trendy café where Ashraf has just been hired under the assumption that he is an Israeli. Yahlli is choosing colorful clothes from his own wardrobe, while his roommates Noʾam (who is Ashraf’s lover) and Lulu are sitting on the bed joking. From the lighthearted argument between Noʾam and Yahlli, it becomes clear that the point of the scene is how “gay” rather than how “Israeli” Ashraf should look...

    • 20 Borders in Motion: The Evolution of the Portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in Contemporary Israeli Cinema
      (pp. 276-293)

      During the 1980s a remarkable phenomenon occurred in Israeli cinema. The main genre attracted leading directors who chose to identify with Israel’s most entrenched enemy—the Palestinian people. The major films of the decade addressed Palestinians suffering from the occupation, depicted Palestinian activists as freedom fighters, gave voice to the Arabic language and Arab worldview, and evoked positive feelings toward those who were perceived by the general public as threatening. The leading films of the 1980s were generally referred to as left-wing movies. In the 1990s these films gave way to a more personal and sectoral cinema. The 1990s dealt...

    • 21 Smashing Up the Face of History: Trauma and Subversion in Kedma and Atash
      (pp. 294-310)

      Find the diferences:

      Scene 1:

      Long shot. A ship’s deck. A crowd of people fills the frame, winding like streams toward the little boats tied to the ship’s side. They are moving along, across the frame, from top to bottom, from bottom to top, from the foreground of the frame to its background, from background to foreground. They are uncountable. Cut. Long shot. A seashore. The camera moves slowly, tracking the horde of people settling on the shore, in all directions—the screen’s width, length, and depth. Extreme long shot. The camera moves slowly, every moment discovering more and more...

  10. Part 7. New Cinematic Discourses

    • 22 Discursive Identities in the (R)evolution of the New Israeli Queer Cinema
      (pp. 313-325)

      Contemporary Israeli Queer Cinema is inspired by the North American and West European New Queer Cinema. It is mostly known for Eytan Fox’s melodramatic filmsYossi and Jagger(2002), a love story between two Israeli soldiers, andWalk on Water(2004), about the intense relationship of a macho Mossad agent with the gay grandson of a Nazi war criminal and the young man’s sister. Early Israeli Queer Cinema in the late 1970s, however, was not melodramatic and was inspired rather by the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) cinema and its modernistic, often nonemotional, alienated, and existential approach. The changes in...

    • 23 Kibbutz Films in Transition: From Morality to Ethics
      (pp. 326-339)

      What does Israeli cinema say about kibbutz life? Does it try to tell the “truth,” reveal untold stories of conflicts, tensions, and violence behind the kibbutz myth, as for example many films from the 1980s do?¹ Or does it criticize kibbutz ideology but at the same time also make possible another mode of thinking about it, as do some films from the late 1990s on? What are some of the trends in the representation of kibbutz life on film? Do Israeli films repeat many of the same stories, characters, and social conflicts or do they go beyond them to transform...

    • 24 The End of a World, the Beginning of a New World: The New Discourse of Authenticity and New Versions of Collective Memory in Israeli Cinema
      (pp. 340-356)

      Stuart Hall has argued that cultural identity is about both “being” and “becoming.”¹ We constitute ourselves not only as “what we really are” but also in terms of “what we have become,” as history intervenes and subjects individuals and communities to traumas of war, immigration, exile, and transition. Cultural identities are those unstable constructs of identification which are made within the discourses of history and culture. They are not essences but positionings, constituted not outside but within representations. Cinema, in this context, is not a mirror held up to our faces, both as individuals and as imagined communities, to reflect...

  11. Contributors
    (pp. 357-362)
  12. Index
    (pp. 363-373)