Arts / Festival asks difficult questions

Nadine (Samira Saraya), at the checkpoint in “Self Made”.

Nadine (Samira Saraya), at the checkpoint in “Self Made”.

WITH painful stories coming daily out of Gaza, approaching the eleventh 2014 Australia Israel Cultural Exchange Israeli Film Festival, raises a lot of questions – and most are being asked by the filmmakers themselves.

The event, at Palace Electric Cinemas until August 31, includes different genres, ranging from short films and documentaries to full-length features.

But this year, symptomatic of the complex response from Israeli filmmakers to a troubled milieu, is the curious use of comedy.

Take the festival opener, the recent Cannes Camera d’Or winner, “Self Made”. Billed as a comedy and widely tipped to be the next Israeli Oscar entry there are not too many laughs, though the critics call it “Kafkaesque”.

Tel Aviv filmmaker Shira Geffen hit upon the idea after joining “Women’s Watch”, a group that stands at the checkpoint between Israel and Palestine.

A scene from the comedy “Kidon”.

A scene from the comedy “Kidon”.

Full of glaringly obvious symbols, it juxtaposes the lives of Michal, a cutting-edge artist who has removed her uterus for exhibition in a Biennale with that of a female Palestinian factory worker, Nadine (Samira Saraya), who longs for a child. Both lives are desolate and when a young female checkpoint guard loses it, the two women swap lives for a time – and nobody notices the difference. They don’t look alike, so it’s not meant to be naturalistic, rather a look inside the mind.

“Self Made” is hardly the “enjoyable comedy” described by one critic, but rather a surreal look at checkpoints, suicide bombers and Jerusalem the Golden.

In marked contrast is French-Israeli filmmaker Emmanuel Naccache’s film “Kidon”, an action comedy based on, of all things, the 2010 assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room, possibly by Mossad’s death squad, Kidon. Hardly a subject for comedy, but as Naccache says: “When we were seeing pictures of the assassination three years ago, it was clear to me that it was the task of an ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ kind of movie.”

In this festival, anything goes in depicting turbulent events in Middle East affairs. You mightn’t like what you see, but it’s worth a look.

Israeli Film Festival, Palace Electric Cinemas, NewActon, until August 31, bookings to palacecinemas.com.au or 6222 4900.

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