Waltz with Bashir (2009)

An Academy Award nominee, and the winner of numerous Israeli and international prizes, this is a mostly animated film that had Israel in its grip for some time.  It addresses the long term memory of soldiers who fought in the first Lebanon War and are still dealing with the pain of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, for which Israel felt at least partially responsible.  A masterful work of art.  Watch it, and you’ll understand why many Israelis wondered whether it wasn’t actually fortunate that it didn’t win.  Is this a movie that we have to receive even more international attention, Israelis wondered.  See what you think.

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Beaufort (2007)

This is the movie that brought the first Lebanon war to Israeli screens.  There is simply no film that does a better job of explaining why Israelis have become war-weary, cynical about the utility of additional military expeditions.  It’s not a terribly gory movie.  But it’s tense, and sad.  And a feeling of futility pervades.  Watch this film, and you’ll never see the work of young Israeli soldiers in quite the same way.

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Noodle (2007)

Miri, thirty-seven years old, is a twice-widowed, El Al flight attendant. She has her life carefully organized and moderated, until she discovered an abandoned Chinese boy whose foreign worker mother has been deported by Israel immigration authorities.  Miri decides to reunite the family, and embarks on an amusing and touching journey.  A lovely window into “normal” Israel people, and slice of Israeli life that we don’t often see in the world of film.

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My Father My Lord (2007)

A film about the Haredi community, this wonderful film (by David Volach) is a fabulous lens into that world, showing with sensitivity and deftness the struggle with faith that a Haredi rabbi and his wife face when they are confronted by a devastating tragedy.  It’s a universal movie in that way, but it’s also a wonderful way of getting insight into the Haredi world, its customs and beliefs.  Unforgettable.

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Turn Left at the End of the World (2004)

Set at the end of the 1960’s, this movie, which was a great success in Israel, portrays the travails of the Northern African immigrants who were sent to dilapidated towns “at the end of the world” as Israel struggled to settled the masses arriving at its borders.  Uprooted from their native lands, having lost their former social and familial structures, and struggling to raise children in a society they themselves do not understand, the characters in this gorgeous movie struggle to find love, meaning and the prospect of a better future.  An honest, charming and sad look at the story of Israel’s Northern African immigrants, now a defining portion of our political and social map.

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The Syrian Bride (2004)

Our common perceptions notwithstanding, Israel is not only a country of Jews. There are Chritians, Moslems, and Druze, as well. Amal, a Druze woman in an Israeli village, is about to marry a Syrian man and cross the border. When she does, she will never be able to return. The movie tells a personal story of love frustrated by politics and diplomats, with charm and grace.  One of the first films that exhibited the great strides recently made in the Israel film industry.

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Ushpizin (2004)

Moshe and Mali Bellanga are dirt poor and childless, having joined the Breslov Hassidic community in Jerusalem as adults.  Their powerful faith is tested by their childlessness, and by their poverty, as well.  Their love, and their marriage, are severely tested when Moshe pays an extraordinary sum for a gorgeous etrog in preparing for the Sukkot holiday.  “Friends” from his former life, now escaped convicts, soon visit, and matters get extraordinarily complicated.  The Hardei community is the source of much contention in Israel, largely because Haredim do not serve in the army. But this touching film, in which the actors themselves are Hardeim and married to each other, casts an entirely different, and loving, light on this poorly understood community. 

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Campfire (2004)

It’s the early 1980’s, and a single mother decides to move with her two daughters to a religious-Zionist settlement in the “occupied territories.” The movie casts a not always flattering lens on the passions and beliefs of the community, shown through the trials of the two teenage daughters and the way they are treated by a host of characters. Painful, sometimes funny, and always poignant.

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Yossi and Jagger (2002)

Many movies had dealt with the Israel Defense Forces. But this is the first, to my knowledge, to address the trials and tribulations of a gay couple serving in the IDF. It’s a haunting, beautiful and sad movie, and raises harrowing questions about the real costs of the “macho” environment of the IDF. A classic in Israel, and a wonderful window on yet another dimension of Israeli life that is not often part of our discourse about Israel and its challenges.

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Broken Wings (2002)

Israel is not all about war, army, immigration. Sometimes it’s just about regular people trying to live regular lives. This film, about a single mother raising her teenage children alone, isn’t at all critical of Israel. Indeed, it’s not “about” Israel. But because it takes place in Israel, it offers a window into parts of Israeli life, even while dealing with a subject much more universal.  Memorable and beautifully done.

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