Festival Daily

By Ghita Loebenstein

The new guard of Israeli cinema announced itself at last year’s Festival with stellar titles like The Band’s Visit (Eran Kolirin) and Jellyfish (Shira Geffen, Etgar Keret), and the current Israeli lineup suggests it has only strengthened its resolve. It’s not that politics are out per se, but Israeli cinema has humanized itself, and in the process is finding passionate new audiences. This year, Ari Folman explores war without explicit politics in Waltz with Bashir, while Nati Baratz documents a Buddhist monk’s sacred quest in his documentary Unmistaken Child. Amos Kollek’s Restless examines the shifting dynamic between a father and son and two generations of Israelis, and Tatia Rosenthal’s extraordinary claymation feature, $9.99, is a magical meditation on the search for self.

An Israeli by birth, Rosenthal studied at Tisch School of the Arts in New York City, where she now lives. On the eve of her film’s opening, she talks to us about politics, postmodernism and finding the meaning of life in $9.99.

GL: Overall, films made in Israel from the 1950s to the late 1980s were more politicized than those made over the last decade. It seems that Israeli cinema is moving away from depictions of war and the Israel-Palestine conflict toward a broader representation of Israeli life. Do you agree, and what are your thoughts on the reasons for this? Is it a maturation of the film industry or the country as a whole?

Tatia Rosenthal: It’s safe to say that the observation is correct, and also that it has to do with the maturation of the industry and the country. More than that, I suspect it has to do with a global shift of cultural sensibility toward postmodern values, where one is defined less by rigid predetermined narratives of self and country, and more by a relativist and personal take on life and its challenges, while trying to understand the experiences of others around you. I think this shift in sensibility not only enabled the creation of more personal, varied work, but also [allowed] for more complex political work, which helped to expand the scope of political dialogue in the country.

GL: As the story of a man who is searching for the meaning of life, $9.99 aligns very neatly with this new guard of Israeli cinema. How conscious was that alliance, and what did you want to express about this more personal, postmodern sense of identity?

TR: It was exactly that complex portrayal of the self and the great sense of humour in which it was done that drew me, as it drew most of my generation, to Etgar Keret’s stories. $9.99 is based on six of Etgar’s stories, and it examines the same shifts in self-definition in an indirect way. The characters’ self image and well-being hinge on a singular idea or goal, and we watch them as that idea is exposed as incorrect, or at least much more complicated than initially fantasized.

GL: Did you create your characters as a direct metaphor for the Israeli experience?

TR: Neither Etgar nor I set out to write a metaphor for Israeli society in any way when we wrote $9.99. I think we both share a similar perspective on life and we both grew up in Israel, so it’s not a coincidence that our perspective on individual lives correlates to our perspective on life in Israel in some way. But $9.99 is set in “every city” and speaks of a certain universal urban experience more than it might refer to any specific place. It was important for me to make this exact film both for the love of the material and because I believe in what it says about finding moments of joy and connectedness in a life full of uncertainties.

GL: This is obviously a very universal message, but do you think it has particular resonance in Israeli society? Does the political instability make life more uncertain and thus the challenge for finding joy more imperative?

TR: I’m sure that’s true to a certain extent, but life isn’t holding any certainties for anyone anywhere, and never has, and at the same time, the conflicts in the lives of the characters in $9.99 are relatively tame, albeit unusual, so I wouldn’t claim that we created a metaphoric recipe for dealing with life in the front lines.

GL: What are some recent Israeli films that you have enjoyed or that you feel accurately capture the current milieu?

TR: Close to Home by Vardit Bilu and Dalia Hager deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a very sober, personal examination of the friendship between two Israeli female soldiers who are given the difficult task of performing security checks on Arabs in Jerusalem. Their very different responses touch on the many complexities facing the mixed population of Jerusalem and the country.

Ushpizin by Gidi Dar is a comedic drama about an Orthodox childless couple who need quite a few miracles to save them from financial ruin. The film is a true work of faith, and yet its greatness is its universal humour and drama that appeals to both secular and religious audiences alike.

Sept. 4, 7:30pm, AMC 7            
Sept. 8, 8:15pm, Varsity 2         
Sept. 12, 5:15pm, Varsity 4