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Israel @ 60 (May 28th - June 5th, 2008)

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- Directed by Joseph Cedar.

In Hebrew with subtitles. This is a very character-driven drama that feels thoroughly engaging to watch. When the Israeli family moves to the new settlement, there are certain traditional customs that they are forced to abide by. For example, it is unacceptable that Rachel (Eshet), the widowed mother, should remain without a husband. She does meet Yossi (Igvy), a lonely middle-aged man, who happens to be a virgin--but she does not make fun of him nor is it used in a comical way like it is in The 40 Year-Old Virgin. There are a few comical moments, though, like when she and Yossi end up touring the area on a bus and are forced to head back because of flatulent cows. The drama gets very heavy when Tami (Furstenberg), Rachel's 15 year-old daughter, is molested by a group of older boys at a campsite. The dilemma is very clear: either go the police which would lead people to believe that Tami is like a slut, or not tell anyone and let the boys get a way with it. Once Tami locks herself in her room without speaking to anyone, the plot seems slightly like a soap opera, but with convincing performances from everyone along with a well-written script, realism is always maintained. Fortunately, the plot is never contrived or gimmicky despite how simple and predictable it feels. Writer/director Joseph Cedartackles the issues of racism and discrimination without going too far or becoming uncomfortable. These issues are also very timely. Itís not easy to raise two teenage girls, especially in a settlement where there is plenty of standards and discrimination. It is very inspiring to watch Rachel do everything in her power to keep her family together. Her emotional strength is very uplifting, especially in the way she deals with all the racial tensions. The ending is very satisfying and, above all, believable. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Film Movement. Screens at the Walter Reade Theater on Thursday, May 29th @ 4:15 PM and Saturday, May 31st @ 7:20 PM.

Close to Home
- Directed by Vidi Bilu and Dalia Hager.

In Hebrew with subtitles. Close to Home follows the experiences of Mirit and Smadar, two teenage girls in the Israeli military who work together as border patrol. Both donít enjoy obeying the orders of their commander, Dubek (Suki), who gives them orders to stop and take down the information of every Arab man or woman crossing their paths, whether on buses or sidewalks. What makes this timely plot compelling is not only the tensions between the soldiers and their commander or the threat of suicide attacks, but also the interesting relationship between Mirit and Smadar who have opposite personalities. Mirit seems more timid and shy while Smadar is more outgoing and unafraid to speak her mind. In a subplot, Mirit has a crush on an older man who rescued her during a suicide bombing and she doesnít even have the confidence to approach him. Naama Schendar, Smadar Sayar, and Irit Suka all give very strong performances which makes their characters both believable and engaging. Fortunately, co-writers/directors Vidi Bilu and Dalia Hager breathe life into the script with organic dialogue, brief comic relief, complex characters and they, wisely, donít allow for any melodrama which helps to keep you thoroughly absorbed. Itís quite moving how Mirit and Smadar gradually become friends despite their differences. Throughout their experiences together in the Israeli military, Mirit learns how to be more confident, Smadar becomes more kind and, above all, they both learn the true meaning and value of friendship. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by IFC First Take. Screens at the Walter Reade Theater on Friday, May 30th @ 2:00 PM and Sunday, June 1st @ 3:40 PM.

Live and Become
- Directed by Radu Mihaileanu.

(Highly Recommended!!)
In Amharic, Hebrew and French with subtitles. Schlomo (Moshe Agazai), a young Ethiopian boy, migrates to Israel where a foster mother (Yael Abecassis) and father (Roschdy Zem) raise him during times of racism against Ethiopians. As he becomes a teenager, Schlomo (now played by Moshe Abebe) falls in love with Sarah (Roni Hadar), but her racist father forbids her to even be near him. Schlomo tries to live up to his motherís request that he should go live and becomeóďto become what?Ē, is the truly universal question that he must find an answer to. The plot feels profoundly moving as Schlomo merely tries to find his own happiness and to overcome his difficult childhood in a world filled with racism and intolerance. His romance with Sarah feels very real and tender as well as his relationship to his adoptive mother who goes out of her way to show how much she loves him. Writer/director Radu Mihaileanu expertly brings all of these characters to life with a brilliant script and adds just the right amount of comic relief to loosen up the serious tone a bit. It also helps that each and every performance is believable without going over-the-top. Pay close attention to a very timely and important message about the fight for land in Israel through an insightful discussion regarding an old and a new tree co-existing. With a running time of nearly two-and-a-half hours, Live and Become manages to be a thoroughly captivating, heartfelt and truly unforgettable epic that should be seen by everyone who appreciates the rewarding struggles of life, love and the pursuit of happiness. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Very High. Released by Menemsha Films. Screens at the Walter Reade Theater on Thursday, May 29th @ 1:30 PM, May 31st @ 4:20 PM and June 4th @ 6:30 PM.

Or (My Treasure)
- Directed by Keren Yedaya.

In Hebrew with subtitles. Both the teenager (Igvi) and her mother (Elkabetz) are characters who do very shocking things--especially to pay the rent. What really make this film truly work though are the remarkable performances by Igvi and Elkabetz. They give their roles everything they have and are surprisingly likeable. Fortunately, except for one or two scenes, the movie never becomes pornographic or disgusting. The plot is just a platform for two very complex characters that go through a lot emotionally. Moreover, itís very interesting to watch the daughter gradually follow in her mother's footsteps. Equally, this metamorphosis is heartbreaking and sad. These are people on the fringe of society but who still share one common thread with everyone else: they just want to make a living. The way they choose to make a living is difficult for many people to accept, but the performances are so convincing that these characters become real. Ultimately, the film feels like a documentary that beckons you to watch the tragic lives of two very emotional people. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by Kino International. Screens at the Walter Reade Theater on Monday, June 2nd @ 4:15 PM and Wednesday, June 4th @ 4:30 PM.

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