The Israeli Film Festival celebrates Israel through the art of film making.
The 15th Annual Israeli Film Festival premiered Saturday night with a theme understood in every language – love.
The nonprofit film festival opened at The International House with a movie titled “The Matchmaker,” directed by Avi Nesher. This coming-of-age story tells the story of Arik Burstein, an adolescent boy living in Haifa, Israel in 1968.
Burstein is fascinated by detective novels and the intrigue they possess. His appetite for espionage is satiated when he meets Yankele Bride, a Holocaust survivor and town matchmaker.
Bride is a friend of Burstein’s father who’s from Burstein’s homeland, Romania, where both men evaded death at the hands of the Nazis. Bride convinces Burstein to help him with his matchmaking job down in the “low-rent district” – a hotbed of iniquity, rife with hookers, pornography and a theater run by dwarves.
Burstein is assigned the role of “spy guy.” He spies on people Bride is setting up with clients to ensure they are worthy of producing a successful love match. Burstein then begins to discover love himself with Tamara, Burstein’s friend’s rebellious and beautiful Iraqi cousin.
As soon as love begins to blossom, conflict ensues regarding Bride’s shady dealings in illegal card gambling, which he does with his unrequited love interest and fellow survivor Clara Epstein.
Some people believed Bride and Epstein were devious characters, for many Israelis thought Holocaust survivors engaged in criminal acts to manage their survival. Although many see Bride negatively, he is a hopeless romantic with a good heart whom Burstein views as a hero.
Despite the dilemmas that transpire, the viewer is taught love is the ultimate goal people strive for to achieve true happiness.
Yet, the film had its shortcomings, such as the underdeveloped character Tamara and the rushed love story between Tamara and Burstein.
The beginning and end added an element of clichéd filmmaking to an otherwise accomplished film. Despite its shortcomings, the movie adeptly revealed a side of 1960s Israel that is rarely seen or discussed. The predominantly Israeli audience offered its thoughts on the film as it enjoyed post-movie desserts.
“[The film] showed that there’s a whole generation of people who had the guilt of having survived [the Holocaust],” viewer Jeff Retig said. “They all faced that for the rest of their lives and coped in different ways.”
Many fellow viewers were also touched by the poignancy of showing the treatment of Holocaust survivors in 1960s Israel.
“It was the guilt imposed on them by Israeli society,” viewer Barry Klayman said. “They thought survivors were extremely cowardly or did something nefarious to survive.”
The Honorable Daniel Kutner attended the screening to represent the Consulate General of Israel, who helped organize the festival.
“This movie speaks about Israel 23 years after the end of World War II,” Kutner said. “Romanian and Iraqi Jews represented two big groups of refugees that moved to Israel after 1948. They shared the tensions, problems and secrets that they brought with them from their places of origin.”
Besides “The Matchmaker,” the volunteer-based festival will be screening seven Israeli films this year: three documentaries – “Precious Life,” “Voices from El Sayed” and “Missing Father,” dramas such as “Lebanon,” “The Human Resources Manager” and “Gei Oni,” and a raucous biblical comedy, “This is Sodom.”
“There are comedies and movies dealing with relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel,” Kutner said. “Many of these movies are a reflection of our society. Sometimes they are critical of it. Therefore, it’s an experience recommended for everyone – Israelis, Jews, Chinese, Hispanics, whatever.”
The festival itself would not have been possible without organizers, including the Consulate General of Israel, as well as the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, public relations firm Fleischmann Gerber & Associates and the Festival Board, headed by Chairperson Nurit Yeron.
“It is a work of a committee – we have a very dedicated group of people,” Yeron said. “And without our sponsors, we couldn’t have done what we could.”
“The film industry in Israel is improving, so it’s nice to present such a nice lineup,” Yeron added. “The festival is the best tool to market the movies. Also, you get to see the culture and learn a lot.”
Aelon Porat, the director of Media and Communications and a Temple alumnus said he believes the festival is important to help dispel misconceptions about Israel.
“I think the first association people have with Israel is the one they see on the news,” Porat said. “It’s a very one-sided view. The festival shows the cultural side of Israel they never get to see in newspapers or in the media. We get an interesting glance into Israel.”
The festival will run through Saturday, April 9, when it ends with the documentary “Voices from El-Sayed.”
Kutner described the overall relevance of such movies to humanity.
“Cinema is one of the most powerful expressions of the spirit of a society,” he said.
The Israeli film festival has proven to be a powerful expression of the spirit of Israel, as well as the human spirit, no matter what ethnicity attendees are.
Jessica Herring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.