israeli film

JR reviews two ★★★★ picks from Edinburgh's International Shalom Festival: rap opera The City and documentary Disturbing the Peace

The City ★★★★ – Israel's Incubator Theatre makes its Edinburgh debut at Shalom - just three years after protests prevented it from being part of the Festival Fringe

One highlight of the International Shalom Festival is the return to Edinburgh of Jerusalem's Incubator Theatre with their hip-hop opera The City, a clever homage to all those private dicks who walk the mean streets of the city trying to solve crime. The City is entirely written in rhyme, combining rap, hip-hop and spoken word to tell a tale of vanity, lust and murder. This is the company targeted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators in 2014, which meant they were unable to perform at the Fringe. So it's all the more exciting and gratifying that they are at last making their proper Edinburgh debut. When JR's Arts Editor Judi Herman saw The City at JW3, London, where it played three sold-out performances in the aftermath of the Edinburgh protests, she was inspired to write the following four-star review in rhyme.

I’m telling you, friends, get down to The City,

A fast-moving show that’s mighty witty.

Israelis rap in English rhyme,

A dark twisted story of a web of crime.

A private dick, just an ordinary Joe,

Meets a mystery blonde and goes with the flow.

If you can get a ticket, you will too,

It’s a sparky performance from a versatile crew.

A band and beatbox, shared imagination,

The City never gets lost in translation…

The City runs Tuesday 8 – Thursday 10 August. 11.30am, 4pm, 8pm (Tue & Wed only). £12.50, £9.50 concs, £8 NUS. Drummond Community High School, Edinburgh, EH7 4BS.


Disturbing the Peace ★★★★ – Searing testimony from fighters for co-existence in Israel/Palestine

Some fine thought-provoking feature and documentary films are part of the entertainment and dialogue at the Shalom Festival, with filmmakers and activists involved in that discussion between Israelis and Palestinians taking part in post-show discussions and Q&As.

One in particular is the documentary Disturbing the Peace, from directors Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young. The film follows an activist group called Combatants for Peace and tells the story of these former enemies – Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters, many of whom served years in prison – who have decided to join forces in order to work towards a peaceful resolution and to stand up for what they believe in. The two screenings of Disturbing the Peace will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session.

Disturbing the Peace runs Wednesday 9 & Thursday 10 August. 3.30pm (Wed), 1.30pm (Thu). Free. Drummond Community High School, Edinburgh, EH7 4BS.

Judi Herman saw Disturbing the Peace at the 2016 UK Jewish Film Festival and you can read her four-star review below:

Click here to find out what else is going on at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review: The Writer ★★★★ - A guide for the perplexed from the writer of hit Israeli TV series Arab Labour

film-the-writer More reviews from the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival. This time looking at two films from Israel giving insights into Arab/Israeli relations, featuring this mockumentary written by Sayed Kashua and directed by Shay Capon.

If you loved Arab-Israeli writer Sayed Kashua’s Arab Labour and you’re into Larry Davidson, this meta-reality TV series, which has its first three episodes screened at the Festival, is for you. But don’t expect to get the belly laughs or even the cynical giggles you got from Larry and Arab Labour’s genial, narcissistic anti-hero Amjad (who finds celebrity when he wins a TV reality show). Kashua’s writer Kateb (wonderfully perplexed Yousef Sweid) is his fictional alter ego, an Arab-Israeli TV writer who has achieved celebrity status with his hit TV series called – yes you’ve guessed it – Arab Labour.

But Kaleb is uneasy about his celebrity – is he merely the acceptable face of Arab-Israeli culture – the creative who makes Israelis feel liberal when they laugh with him at his clever take on life on the other side of the cultural divide? And despite – or perhaps partly because of his success, he’s having a mid-life crisis. Is he really living the dream or is he increasingly alienated from his admittedly demanding wife and teenage daughter as he ineffectually juggles the life/work balance with increasingly chaotic results? And then there’s his insecure pre-teen son, terrified by his father’s altercation with a black-garbed, Orthodox Jew complete with sidecurls as the pair go head to head over a parking space. Will their overreaction lead to violent repercussions or will an apology go some way towards rapprochement between these members of two communities living uneasily side by side?

His attempt to answer these questions leads him to announce a sabbatical from making a new series of Arab Labour – instead he proposes a series based on a character much like himself, going through just the sort of life experiences he is experiencing. See what I mean about meta-reality? This one really does have as many layers as an onion. So the laughs are subtle and the questions posed about Israeli society promise to continue to be telling in the rest of the series of ten episodes. With Fauda – the hit action series about an Israeli undercover unit operating in Palestinian territory that has proved a runaway success with both Palestinians and Israelis – about to come to Netflix, I’m optimistic that I’ll find out – I just hope I don’t have to wait too long!

By Judi Herman

The Writer screens on Sunday 20 November,  4pm, at JW3, NW3 6ET.


Review: Disturbing the Peace ★★★★ - Searing testimony from fighters for co-existence in Israel/Palestine

film_disturbing-the-peace More reviews from the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival. This time looking at two films from Israel giving insights into Arab/Israeli relations, starting with Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young's documentary, Disturbing the Peace.

For a searing insight into the wounds inflicted on both sides by the situation and into a group that has earned the right to work towards trying to heal them, I urge you to see this hard-hitting documentary. Even-handed filmmakers Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young take no prisoners and no sides. They give equal screen-time to the bravely candid members of Combatants for Peace from both the Israeli and Palestinian communities who speak directly to camera to tell their stories, backed up by documentary footage and reconstructions, as well as tense actuality of unfolding events.

These men and women really have earned the right to fight for peace and co-existence over the ten years since they were established. There’s the Palestinian woman who kissed her little daughter goodbye, explaining that she would not see her again as she intended to blow herself up. Apprehended and in an Israeli prison, it’s the humanity of her female jailers that helps her to listen to the narrative of the other. Another Palestinian activist, a man this time, learns to understand the other literally as well, as he learns Hebrew in prison. And equally, it’s impossible not to hear the narrative of both ‘sides’ as the film reveals the sort of punitive action that makes men and women come to the conclusion that taking such desperate action is the only way – houses demolished leaving weeping families on the street, a younger pre-teen brother gunned down for trying to go 50 yards down the street to a cousin’s house during a punishingly early curfew. I am reminded of the coming together of bereaved family members from both communities in the Bereaved Families Forum, who also speak of listening to the narrative of the other.

For every bit of footage showing desperate Jews trying to get to Palestine or emaciated bodies in the camps, there’s equally shocking footage of the bodies left behind after the massacres in Sabra and Shatila. As one of the combatants (and tellingly I cannot remember from which community) says “Blood is blood – it doesn’t have two colours” – and another “Every act of violence causes pain”. The plangent beauty of oud music on the soundtrack makes these scenes and statements all the more poignant.

It’s heartening and moving to see Israeli members of Combatants for Peace, who present at first as 'hardened' soldiers from elite units, taking blankets to Palestinian families whose houses have been demolished. Equally though, it is worrying to see the military presence (and the tension that engenders) that accompanies their peaceful rallies, almost reminiscent of 1960s hippies or the Greenham Common women, though these Combatants for Peace have experienced pain and violence at first hand. One of the most telling images in the film is a mock tomb with the message “We don’t want you here” carved on it. For me that says it all.

By Judi Herman

Disturbing the Peace screens on Tuesday 15 November, 6.30pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.

Review: Mr Predictable ★★★★ - Israeli romcom complete with canine and human stars to set your tail wagging

film-mr-predictable As the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival gets underway (5-20 November), we take our first look at the selection of films on offer. Roee Florentin’s Mr Predictable will have you cheering as  its eponymous hero finally refuses to sit up and beg…

As a dog lover and owner myself, I was especially delighted to be asked to introduce the UKJFF screening of Roee Florentin’s real doggie treat of a romcom. Meet Adi Levi – a man who is simply too nice for his own good – until he literally bumps into Natalya , or one of the dogs she walks. Natalya is what you might call naughty but nice – just the girl to take our hero in hand and retrain him, while the dogs she walks give him a good licking too. It’s one of those marvellous Israeli films that give you insights into ordinary life in Israel, with the situation there in the background, informing it rather than being at the heart of the story.

Ever since Adi's soldier father left for Lebanon saying he’d be back soon, only to be killed in action, Adi has been careful and cautious to the point of timidity and so very aware of others that he has become a pushover, walked all over not just by his boss, his wife and his mother, but even his spoilt brat of a pre-teen son. A mix-up at a hospital appointment that leads him to believe he has mere weeks to live proves a life changer, but only because it’s compounded by the one careless act of his life – narrowly avoiding killing one of Natalya’s charges when he runs it over.

From this unpromising beginning, a new relationship and a new man are born. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself cheering Adi on as he finds not just his mojo, but his inner hard man. Much of this is down to the winning performances of a beautifully matched pair of actors, Amos Tamam and Meytal Gal Suisa as Adi and Natalya (and not forgetting the canine supporting cast), directed with equal parts of sensitivity and panache by Roee Florentin against a great backdrop of Tel Aviv’s parks and suburbs. I guarantee Mr Predictable will make tails wag and I predict dog-friendly screenings very soon!

By Judi Herman

Mr Predictable has the following UKIJFF screenings:

Sunday 6 November, 3pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.

Sunday 20 November, 6pm, Phoenix Cinema, N2 9PJ.

Hill Start - Judi Herman reviews a fine tragicomedy from Israel showing at the UK Jewish Film Festival

hill start, israeli film, seret 2015 It's no wonder this engrossing tragicomedy has been a box-office comic sensation in Israel says Judi Herman

What will you make of the Geva family – Jerusalem’s finest? Father and son, who work together at the sharp end of cosmetic surgery, make their first appearance intently drawing lines on the naked flesh of their next client – a young woman who looks pretty shapely already. There is some professional disagreement and it’s soon clear that father Micha (Shlomo Bar-Aba) is pulling rank on son Ari (Itay Tiran) when it comes to enhancing those curves against his better judgement. Ari knows his own mind when it comes to his chosen bride, mouthy private detective Reli (Romi Aboulafia), despite Micha’s disapproval and the consternation of the women in his family. His mother Ora (Idit Teperson) is a super-fit gym teacher and half-marathon winner, and  sister Shlomit (Mali Levi Gershon) teaches Arabic in schools, using the romantic films of her crooner idol Ahmed as a teaching aid and setting writing the diary of a Palestinian schoolchild as a homework assignment.

There may be a touch of social snobbism about the Gevas – Reli is from the Sephardi community – but there’s no doubt that alcohol makes her behaviour pretty challenging. The trouble is that she and Ari drink more than a few premature toasts on their wedding day before the ceremony, and Reli's inability to hold her drink sets off a chain of events that means Ari never gets to break a glass under the wedding canopy that day. The only glass that smashes is the windscreen of Micha’s car as he has a terrible accident driving the whole family to the ceremony.

It’s the rebuilding of bodies, dreams and lives shattered that day in unexpected ways that is the meat of this unusual, quirky tragicomedy. I’d say "you couldn’t make it up", but writer and director Oren Stern and his co-writer Riki Shulman have, of course, done exactly that!

Ora loses the most, for she is left in a coma, unaware that she is surrounded by her  family, who take to meeting for meals at her bedside. Despite Micha’s fury, Ari has to try to find the courage to stick to Reli and reschedule the wedding lest he lose her. Micha himself has to find the courage to get back behind the wheel and retake his driving test or face a life-long driving ban. Thanks to a chance meeting with a pretty driving instructor who moonlights as a yoga instructor (Romi Aboulafia) this apparently insensitive man (he can’t help pointing out physical flaws with a practised plastic surgeon’s eye) learns some valuable life lessons.

Shlomit gets to meet not one, but two potential significant others, thanks to her decision to run the next half marathon through Jerusalem’s streets in honour of her mother. She trains with Motti, the wheelchair-using gym teacher who replaces Ora; and finds the bed next to her occupied by the mother of matinee idol Ahmed, who's played with relish by real-life Arab star Yousef (Joe) Sweid.

Will Ora wake from her coma? Will Shlomit follow in her mother’s springy footsteps and win the marathon? Will she find love with Motti or Ahmed? Will Ari find his courage so that Reli can get her man in the end? And will self-centred Micha learn to centre himself? You’ll have to see this funny, sometimes abrasive film to find out. And if you do, you’ll enjoy some wonderfully rounded comic performances from some of Israel’s top acting talent and find out why it’s done so well at festivals around the world.

By Judi Herman

Hill Start screens in London on Saturday 14 November. 9.15pm. JW3, 341-351 Finchley Rd, NW3 6ET; 020 7433 8988.

Then moves to Didsbury on Sunday 15 November. 6.30pm. Cineworld, M20 5PG; 087 1200 2000.

Leeds on Sunday 15 November. 4pm. MAZCC, LS17 6AZ; 011 3268 4211.

Glasgow on Tuesday 17 November. 7.30pm. CCA, G2 3JD; 014 1352 4900.

South Woodford on Saturday 21 November. 7pm. Odeon, E18 2QL; 087 1224 4007.

Find further info at

SERET 2015 reviews: Do You Believe in Love?

Do_You_Believe_in_Love, israeli film, seret 2015 Funny, tender and even gripping, this is Tova’s story – a larger-than-life matchmaker with a heart of gold, down-to-earth philosophy, a devoted husband and a crippling disease.

Tova conducts her business from the easy chair to which she is confined, loud and proud despite having no movement at all from the neck down, thanks to the muscular dystrophy that struck after she gave birth to her daughter Dolly. “I do everything with my mind,” she declares, and she certainly proves it in Dan Wasserman’s documentary.

Although she has a special interest in would-be brides and grooms with their own disabilities, she welcomes everyone and anyone of any age looking for a life partner. So the film opens with a parade of the long, the short and the tall; the old and the young; the abled and the differently-abled; all looking for love and each with their own wish list. She pulls no punches and is not afraid to ask wheelchair user Yossi whether he can get to the toilet unaided. “Do you believe in love?” is her constant question and she advises all her clients to be prepared to compromise.

And so the viewer is drawn in to the stories of Tova’s clients. You find yourself hoping against hope that they will find happiness with Mr or Ms Right. There’s spiky Rosan in her wheelchair, out and proud about her chain-smoking and entirely unprepared to compromise to impress health-conscious Asi on their first (and probably last) date. The beautiful young blind woman, with whom you get to share the pain of having a potential date hang up the phone when she confides that she cannot see, gets short shrift from Tova, who tells her sternly not to mention her sight until the prospective husband has set eyes on her.

In case you think her successes are few and far between, it is her proud boast that she has arranged more than 550 matches. The filmgoer does get invited to the wedding of one of Tova’s successes, thanks to daughter Dolly who goes on behalf of her mother and relays the ceremony via her mobile phone. The joy of both bride and groom is palpable and immensely touching and Wasserman does indeed give the audience a guest’s-eye-view of the details of the traditional ceremony.

And then there’s the overarching story of Tova herself and her devoted husband Gaby. It doesn’t matter that he has "heart and psyche problems", including a strange compulsion to buy huge quantities of fresh peppers every day. It’s his total devotion to Tova that is so moving and their unwillingness to survive each other as they make clear in the living wills they make on video.

The climax of the film is their 43rd wedding anniversary party, surrounded by their large and noisy family and many friends. The highlight is watching the film of their 1960s wedding, and it is extraordinarily moving to see the young sprightly couple dancing together – she so slender and lively, as she points out herself. But time certainly has not withered this indomitable spirit and she and Gaby are a shining example of what you can look forward to if you believe in love.

By Judi Herman

Do You Believe in Love screens Monday 15 June. 4pm. £14. JW3, 341-351 Finchley Rd, London NW3 6ET.