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Big Bad Wolves & Zaytoun: Fred Levit Reviews

September 8, 2013 – 1:18 pmNo Comment

By Fred Levit:

zaytoun2With the closing of the Israeli Film Festival last week, the staggering variety of quality cinema was awe inspiring. Seldom do I sit lost in thought, heart soaring, thinking about which film was better than the other and what characters were the most memorable. They say the film you saw last is most fresh in your mind’s eye, but boy did Israel pack a punch with this year’s official selection. It looks as if their film industry is getting more attention on a world-scale and consistent with this, their budgets are getting bigger, stories more controversial and a pool of talent more unforgettable than ever before.

Israel is no stranger to quality film making, but when I was born there in the dusk of 84’, men like Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan made their names in Hollywood and left Israel behind to churn out 100 sequels to ‘Eskimo Limon’. But there were a handful of daisies sprouting out in a sea of celluloid poppies over the years that both questioned and inspired (ie. Chaverim Shel Yana, Blues Le Chofesh Ha Gadol, Kippur), paving the way for a new wave of film makers that were destined to put Israel on the map! Influenced by the titans of world cinema (Hitchcock, Truffaut, Bertolucci, Bergman and Tarantino to name a few) but loyally retaining that distinct flavor of Israel, the wind of change has built a thriving industry today that grows with exponential momentum year after year. I cannot wait to see what they have on offer in next year’s bundle, but until then do yourself a favor and watch these two provoking and ambitious entries that’ll both shock and inspire, but most importantly make you think!

“BIG BAD WOLVES” (2012)

I’ve always been a firm believer that originality is not contained primarily within the boundaries of a novel or film’s plot, but more importantly by its narrative and character development, because I’ll be honest, you’ve seen this film a multitude of times before (in one form or another) and every time it’s just as taboo, controversial and unnervingly disturbing. Just to name a few direct inspirations there were the Slasher Pedophile thrillers Hard Candy (2005), Changeling (2008) and Spoorloos/The Vanishing (1988) paying homage to classics like Death and the Maiden (1994) and Touch of Evil (1958) – even South Korea had a “stab” with The Man from Nowhere (2010) – all brilliant character studies that despite their common scope were all quite unique, original and down right blood boiling.

But if you think Israel has joined the cannon of formulaic film makers looking for cheap thrills and spills in order to garner international attention, you’d be wrong in that respect, because the tour-de-force performances of BIG BAD WOLVES will have your eyes transfixed on the screen until the genuinely surprising finale. If you like being taken for a ride or believe you cannot be because you’ve seen it all before in one way or another, then get your rear view mirror in position, as one after another all your fortified presumptions will be quashed under the fountain of character revelations, plot twists and turns driven by a truly original Black Comedy / Thriller you will never forget.

There is a girl, a disappearance, a search, a chilling discovery, a pattern, a killer, a suspect, a teacher, a father, a cop and a triangle of hostile conviction tied in a knot of repressed brewing emotions and macabre intrigue.

Starring Guy Adler, Lior Ashkenazi, Dvir Benedek and a rainbow of supporting character actors, Aharon Keshales’ second Directorial effort is a colossal reflection of an emerging talent in Israel’s bright future, but to say any more about this movie would be a ‘crime’ punishable by death.

You may have just missed it at the festival, but I’ll be seeking it out for another viewing when it comes out on DVD (assuming it doesn’t shortly come out in our theatres commercially).

“ZAYTOUN” (2012)

Here is a movie that for the first time (I’m sure there were others) captured the essence of the many fantasies I’ve had in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict. A quiet, isolated, often dangerous (and exciting) opportunity to sit down with an Arab youth, officially our enemy (unofficially human) and to break down the paper thin barriers of what dreams and desires we have as human beings. Though these opportunities rarely arise in reality, those with any honesty or visions of peace and posterity will identify with this fateful tale a truly warm, moving and very insightful exploration of fundamental differences in the face of danger, outlining and stripping down to the bare human needs that undermine the absurdity of a conflict in its 65th year.

Set against the grand scale backdrop of a Lebanon in turmoil, fighting itself and Israel, the story follows our two protagonists Yoni (Stephen Dorff) a captured Israeli Fighter Pilot and Fahed (Abdallah El Akal) a Lebanese Palestinian boy as they join forces to escape the horrors of the Civil War threatening to tear the country apart and find refuge within the safe borders of Israel, still trying to prove its validity to the world and its neighbors. Amid all the struggles, political upheaval and violent chaos, Fahed helps Yoni to escape from the clutches of his captors when his father’s dying wish pits his ingrained hatred for Israel against the desperate situation his country is in as he teams up with his sworn enemy to make the journey over the border into the Holy Land and plant his father’s tree in the house that was once theirs.

Stephen Dorff literally gives the performance of his career, realizing his predicament and believing whole-heartedly in the rescue that never comes, slowly but surely through many pretentions, superficialities and a steadfast pride, develops a strong bond with Fahed when he becomes his only means of escape. Likewise, Abdallah El Akal in his first major role as is equally as convincing and he steals every scene with his hardened exterior and placid disposition that melts away when he gets to know his companion on a personal level. As both depend on one another along their journey to Israel, in the face of the many dangers that stand in their way, they come to respect one another as fellow brothers and human beings.

Easily one of the most thought provoking, inspiring and feel good films, I was so glad to have watched it and cannot recommend it enough to Muslim and Jew alike.

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