Taught by George Robinson
Wednesdays, 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM
6 Sessions, September 16 – October 21
Registration deadline: September 13
$169 ($149 for JxJ Donors of certain levels*)

In the last 25 years Israeli film has staked a well-deserved claim to be one of the most vital and innovative film industries in the world. Her filmmakers are winning festival awards and critical garlands globally, and this series will showcase six of best films to emerge from the Jewish State in the new millennium.

With these films as a jumping-off point, the course will explore current trends in Israeli cinema and suggest how such a small industry has achieved such a great impact in the global film scene.

Kippur (2000) Dir: Amos Gitai
Gitai was one of the first Israeli directors to break through on the international festival circuit and this autobiographical tale of his near-fatal combat experiences in the 1973 war is a great example of why. A rigorous reminder of the Sisyphean nature of modern war, Kippur balances thanatos with a significant helping of eros, while never forgetting the bleak momentous of absurdist humor as they bump up against tragedy. Kippur was the first Israeli feature to be selected for the New York Film Festival.

Late Marriage (2001) Dir: Dover Koshashvili
When Late Marriage burst upon us, Koshashvili was an enigma, born in the former Soviet republic of Georgia with only one short film to his credit. His debut feature was a stunning blend of black comedy and deeply felt family drama, with Lior Ashkenazi and Ronit Elkabetz making a deep impression as an all-too-well-matched couple whose relationship is doomed by social pressures. He is a thirty-something philosophy grad student whose Georgian Jewish family is expecting him to marry a young maiden. She is a Mizrahi divorcee with no illusions about how life works. The result veers brilliantly from sardonic satire to ironic tragedy.

Or (My Treasure) (2004) Dir: Keren Yedaya
Another startling feature debut from Israeli filmmaker with foreign origins, in this case the American-born Yedaya. Or (My Treasure) takes its title from the name of Dana Ivgy’s character and her mother’s pet name for her. Unfortunately, Mom (Ronit Elkabetz in another devastatingly honest performance) is a prostitute with substance abuse problems, slowly dragging her treasured daughter into the vortex of self-destruction that is her life. Virtually a two-hander with great performances from its leads, this film is claustrophobically, unremittingly intense.

My Father, My Lord (2007) Dir: David Volach
What happens when tragedy overwhelms faith? Volach’s meditation on the inadequacy of spirituality n the face of terrible unexpected loss – the death of a young child – is powered by all-consuming performances by Assi Dayan and Sharon Hacohen Bar as the parents who must face this darkest of questions. Ironically, although Volach is an ex-haredi, his film offers a scintilla of hope in the black hole of grief.

Fill the Void (2012) Dir: Rama Burshtein
Fill the Void is as different from the other films in this series as could possibly be imagined. Burshtein is American-born and a product of the Haredi world who is totally comfortable with that choice. The film is a domestic drama set in her community with an almost biblical plot involving a young woman who is asked to marry her newly widowed brother-in-law. From this simple storyline, Burshtein builds a dazzling complex, emotionally nuanced film that rests solidly on the inner states of mind of her central character (the luminous Hadas Yaron) as seen through the director’s probing camera work and brilliant sense of composition. Unexpectedly feminist and occasionally quite funny, this is another stunning directorial debut.

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2015) Dir: Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz
Sometimes, as a wise man once said, the most cinematic thing in the world is two people sitting in a room talking. Gett is vivid proof of that statement, a courtroom drama about a seemingly endless divorce case in the Moroccan-Israeli community filled with bitterness and some deliciously off-center humor and the last and greatest of Ronit Elkabetz’s film performances.

Note: Additional streaming film rentals required


Teacher:  George Robinson recently finished 26 years as the film critic at The Jewish Week (NYC). An adjunct assistant professor of media arts and technology at Borough of Manhattan Community College, he has been writing about film for almost 50 years. He is also the author of Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals (Simon and Schuster/Atria) and Essential Torah: A Complete Guide to the Five Books of Moses (Schocken).