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Fred Levit Reviews a New Israeli Release And the Classic, Exodus.

August 26, 2013 – 10:48 am5 Comments

By Fred Levit

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The Israeli Film Festival is on right now in a number of venues in and around our Shtetl. Opening the festival and scheduled to play across these venues until it concludes is a beautifully grounded, emotional ‘Kneidel-Western’ shot in Northern Israel and revolving around a rag-tag ensemble of Jewish Arab characters coming together for a once in a lifetime event.

Starring an all-star Israeli cast including Nir Levy, Adar Gold, Ishtar and Uri Gavriel the simple and linear story follows Joseph Tawila (Uri Gavriel in a poignant minimalist performance) a mysterious bearded, introverted hermit who, upon being intrigued by Amram Mufradi’s (Dudu Tassa) talents at playing the Oude and shocked at the news of his father’s illness , reveals a concealed musical scroll called “BALLAD OF THE WEEPING SPRING” and upon shaving and throwing his Oude round his shoulder  begins his travels through the hamlets of Northern Israel in search of the finest musicians in the land to fulfill an old friend’s dying wish to play the piece in a local cave – a cave that bears the suppressed echoes of their past and brings back the demons that tore them apart.

To say any more would do a major disservice to the film as the many plot and sub-plot revelations throughout it conjure up many of the imperfections and emotions we take for granted, into a character study that patiently and honestly sets the stage for a dramatic and sometimes amusing look into a passionate and loving man’s eternal search for redemption through his music when one mistake brought his whole life crashing down, affecting those dear to his heart. It can not be recommended enough.

“EXODUS” (1960)

Based on Leon Uris’ world-wide best seller, adapted to the screen by post black-listed Dalton Trumbo under a pseudonym and directed by the one and only Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Murder, Laura), this ambitious and classic 1960 epic made only 12 years after the establishment of a new state can quite seamlessly continue where Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’ ended (despite the chronology of their making). Shot in beautiful Technicolor and carried emotionally by the moving and now legendary theme by Ernest Gold (you’re humming it now aren’t you?), Exodus is a story that centers around a handful of Jewish refugees against the vast backdrop of a Palestine in turmoil divided between the remnant survivors of the Holocaust, a Palestinian majority and a British empire on the brink of collapse.

The events begin with the SS Exodus ship used by the British and US Navy during war time. Now, carrying fleeing Jewish refugees from the shores of France and setting its sights on the biblical draw of golden Jerusalem, the passengers aboard the ship (much like many after it) had to contend with the forces working against them, bent on turning them away and preventing their ‘illegal’ emigration to ‘Eretz Israel’. Hungry, destitute and dying in the midst of bureaucracy while interned in another camp on Cypress while the powers that be decide on their fate, Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman) from the Haganah (pre-IDF) arrives undetected to their rescue and guides his people to the promised land through the clever resources and connections at his disposal, drawing upon the many skills the British mandate taught him as Captain of the Jewish Patrol – and in doing so makes his acquaintance with Kitty (Eva Marie Saint) with whom he develops an intimate relationship when her loyalties to his cause draw them nearer.

Comprising an ensemble all-star cast including Lee J Cobb, Ralph Richardson and Sal Mineo, the fictitious characters (based on the real experiences of refugees) take us on a journey through the memories of war, the hardships of settling on the land of our birthright, through the British-Jewish incursions and to the birth of a nation, ending and reminding us that not all great endings are long lived, and that often you must fight for what you believe in (the Arab-Israeli conflict).

A must watch that will make any Zionist proud, you can catch this timeless epic on the silver screen on Wednesday 28th August at the Palace Como 7:30pm. Do not miss watching it as it was originally intended!

 

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5 Comments »

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Should ‘we’ be proud of Exodus?

    Sure, many of us swelled with pride on seeing Exodus, but don’t confuse a blockbuster with reality. At a time of post-holocaust powerlessness, it made us feel powerful. I was taken to it as a special event by my grandfather.

    It is the kind of film that should now be regarded as an out-of-date curiosity of a blinkered and naive era, whatever emotions it rouses about the fate of refugees from Europe. The account of the ship Exodus was fictional. I quote from an academic review “The very captain of the actual Exodus, Yehiel Aranowicz, disputed Uris’s retelling of this event, telling Time Magazine that the book was “neither history nor literature…. The types … described in it never existed in Israel”. http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=31116

    Such nationalist propaganda, pumped out Hollywood by is ill-suited to the current era. The film was just a film, based on a book with a political purpose (to garner American support for Israel), that’s all, but people confuse it with reality. That what simplistic fiction does. It’s relic of an era when we (and I, as a little kid), only got our information from books, films, radio and a bit of TV, but research into the reality of 1948 tells a very different story about the founding years, and the consequent history and poltics of the state are highly disputed, as we all know.

    Here’s another assessment, from Haaretz “On the one hand,” recalls prominent journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, whose 2006 book Prisoners describes his experiences in the Israeli army as a prison guard during the First Intifada, “Exodus set me, and many others, on a course for aliyah, and it made American Jews proud of Israel’s achievements. On the other hand, it created the impression that all Arabs are savages. This was most unhelpful, and the lingering effects of [the book’s] sometimes-cartoonish portrayal of Israel’s founding can still be seen in the opinions of the more unthinking among Israel’s supporters.” http://tinyurl.com/mtnr3vy

    It’s much more important these days to watch Five Broken Cameras or read critical writing to get a picture of the relationship between Israel and its threats. If you don’t like anti or non-Zionists, then read Gershon Gorenberg’s Accidental Empire or the Unmaking of Israel.

  • Fred K Levit says:

    Clearly you have no seen Exodus in a very long time Larry, because its depiction of Arabs is not as you put it ‘savage’. There is only one scene in the film that shows the atrocities committed by an Arab village, and it is during that scene that you see an Arab man named Taha (played by John Derek) hanging from a stone archway with a Swastika and Star of David written in blood on him. Taha is the only Arab character given screen time in the film and he is the most human, responsible and peaceful character in the epic tale, who leads his Arab followers to embrace their Jewish neighbours and work to unite a Palestine in turmoil.

    I had to get that off my chest, for clearly you choose to overlook the ‘savage’ atrocities committed by the Militant wing of the Haganah (known as the Irgun) also portrayed in the film. Yes, we too were divided!

    Larry, you can quote excerpts from documentaries and memoirs till the cows come home, I don’t believe everything I read as if it were Gospel truth. What I do believe in, however, is the existence of a national voice, identity and ideology that has united, strengthened and filled the Jewish people in Israel with a sense of pride the likes they have never had before – particularly true to those that survived the holocaust and built a nation from the ground up (in the face of world hatred and condemnation). To you this is science-fiction, but the REALITY is, these people needed PROPOGANDA more than anybody else – to give them a vision, a purpose and more importantly A HOME!

    You can use words like PROPOGANDA to incite and conjure images of hatred, totalitarianism and unimaginable evil (as the word is usually used in conjunction with Hitler and Stalin, among many other mass murderers), but the word only has a negative connotation if that’s the intended image you want to purvey.

    Just think how lucky you are to be able to BE so critical! Most people around the world cannot have this freedom. My parents came from Communist Russia, where writing the way you have done, would send you and your family to the Gulags and never to return. Thus, in this context, PROPOGANDA is positive to outline the freedoms you have living in a country like Australia, that shares all the same values that Israel does (yet never having to contend with the never ending problems Israel does on a daily basis).

    The REALITY is, like any country in the world, Israel makes many mistakes, and is more susceptible to making them because of its size, its geography and persistent drive to prove its own validity. I ask you then, who are you to quote documentaries and writers when you yourself haven’t experienced living in Isreal?

    EXODUS is still VERY MUCH relevant today, because it reflects the ideology and vision Israelis still have to this very day. My father fought for Israel (was in Lebanon in 1982), having come from Communist Russia, witnessed many atrocities and saw his friends die around him, and he still loves EXODUS….not because EXODUS is a documentary, but because it captures the feeling of pride, unity and vision of the Israeli people!

    Rather than building a paper-thin understanding of REALITY via Documentaries and Memoirs, go and live in Israel for awhile between Israeli people, THEN watch EXODUS from the comfort of your Caulfield Fortress..

  • frosh says:

    Hi Fred,
    I enjoyed your film review. I think Larry just doesn’t like the existence of any work that is incongruent with the particular narrative that he subscribes to.

  • Fred K Levit says:

    I just wanted to point out that references do not always add credibility to a point of view – particularly when those references relate to writers whose limited experiences (making Aliyah to Israel) become the basis for comparisons between FILM and REALITY – which in itself is stupid!

    Of course to an Australian (who’s lived his whole life in a permanent fantasy world) making an ‘Aliyah’ to Israel is not and never will be as peachy as depicted in a Hollywood film or as it was back home, because he has NOTHING TO FIGHT FOR! NO CAUSE! NO VISION! NO PURPOSE! And JUST when life gets a little bit difficult and hard to handle, off he goes back home to Australia to write his memoirs…

    I’m sick of listening to outside intellectuals talking of Israel like it were a game show topic, whose only experience of Israel is Bissli and Chocolate dipped Bamba!

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Frosh et. al. I don’t think it is the narrative, it is the reality the latest sad example of which is http://972mag.com/border-police-target-progressive-tel-aviv-cafe-in-late-night-raid/77921/.

    But historically, the narrative of Benny Morris about what has happened in the past ( and now on the right) is now pretty much beyond dispute except for one or two loonies.

    Fred, you are wrong on another account. I lived in Israel for 4 years and visit regularly. I will be there to do work in December at Hebrew Univ. But I share a different vision for a country of all its peoples. Nor is Exodus a documentary as you state.

    L

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