The High Holidays are over and it's film festival time again. I have already provided readers with a "sneak peek" of my top pick for this year's Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema ( My Australia), and by next week copies of "Tzivi's Guide to the 2012 CFIC" will begin arriving in your snail mail boxes.
But just before the CFIC opens on Tues, Oct. 23, this year's CIFF (the Chicago International Film Festival) will show seven films from Israel/Palestine, including Off-White Lies (the one film common to both lists).
Off-White Lies (Orhim Le Rega) is a promising first feature by director Maya Kenig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Dana Diment (also a first timer). The main character is "Libi" (Elya Inbar), a young girl with "anger management" issues.
Libi has lived most of her life in America with her mother and stepfather, but her mother wants a time-out, so she sends Libi back to Israel to live with her father "Shaul" (Gur Bentvich). After wandering around the airport alone, Libi finally finds Shaul; he's late, as always, and as unreliable as ever. And thus their odyssey begins.
Shaul did not ask for this visit from Libi, and it quickly becomes clear to us that she's arriving at a particularly bad time for him. Shaul has no home, no job, and no prospects, but he does have an ingratiating personality. One friend loans him a car and another friend offers them shelter on a moshav, so Shaul thinks he's bought himself enough time to sort it all out. (Although Libi's mother has not specified an end date for this visit, Shaul clearly believes at the start that his ex-wife will soon miss her daughter and call Libi back home.)
Unfortunately Hezbollah forgot to consult with Shaul before launching a new barrage of missile attacks, and Shaul and Libi arrive at their northern sanctuary just in time to witness the beginning of the second Lebanon War up close and personal. What to do? A brainstorm! While watching the national response on TV, Shaul invents a new scam: why not declare ourselves refugees?
And so, before you can say: "Quick! Everyone into the shelter!," Shaul and Libi become honored guests in the cushy Jerusalem home of a prosperous attorney named "Gidi" (Tzahi Grad) and his artistically-inclined wife "Helit" (Salit Achimiriam).
There is a great deal to like about Off-White Lies. Kenig and Diment do an excellent job of developing Libi's dilemma, and young Elya Inbar (also a first timer!) gives a heart-rending performance that captures Libi's hopes and fears from the inside out.
Exceptional moments convey her feelings of dislocation and isolation. (In one brilliant scene, when Libi skypes her BFF, we hear nothing but see everything.) Other moments capture Libi's tender feelings for Shaul, the feelings any daughter would have for such a father in spite of—or maybe precisely because of—all his obvious weaknesses. (In one masterfully filmed sequence, Libi surprises Shaul with a spontaneous birthday celebration.)
Best of all, Kenig shows Libi rescuing old home movies after Shaul breaks into his storage locker. The clips of a once happy family (young parents, chubby baby) are poignant, but most revelatory are the flow of mixed emotions that cross Inbar's face as Libi watches them.
Unfortunately, after this highly promising set-up, Off-White Liesbegins to unravel in the third act. All of the adult leads are excellent, but suddenly the story leaps beyond the Libi/Shaul relationship, adding unnecessary sexual encounters and unmotivated cliché characters before coming to an abrupt end after a too-short 86 minute runtime.
But Off-White Lies received seven 2011 Ophir Award nominations last year from the Israel Film Academy (including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay), so I am certain we will be hearing more from Maya Kenig in future!
Off-White Liesplays at AMC River East in Streeterville as part of the CIFF schedule on 10/15 and 10/16, and at the AMC Northbrook Court as part of the CFIC schedule on 10/29 and 11/1.
For complete CIFF information, visit http://www.ChicagoFilmFestival.com.
For complete CFIC information, visit http://ChicagoFestivalOfIsraeliCinema.org.
One picture equals one thousand words: Even though Shaul knows Libi has asthma, he continues to chain-smoke through-out the entire film. (Photo Credit: Itai Vinograd courtesy of Film Movement.)
Chicago Welcomes Joe Cedar Back to Chicago!
The big winner at the 2011 Ophir Award ceremony last year (aka "the Israeli Oscars") was Footnote (Hearat Shulayim), which went on to receive one of the five coveted spots for Best Foreign Language Film from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences last January.
I wrote about Footnote when it finally opened here in Chicago last March. I absolutely love this film! In my opinion, it was the best of the five 2012 BFLF nominees, and it is sure to place very high on my "2012 Twozie List" come December.
So I urge you to clear your calendar now and buy a ticket for the CIFF's " Conversation with Joseph Cedar" on Mon October 22.
The "conversation" segment of this program will be followed by a screening of Footnote. If you have already seen Footnote (either in a theatre or on DVD), you should read my review, and go watch it again. This is a dense and multilayered film that gets better and better each time you watch it. I should know: I've already seen it three times!
This will be Joe's second visit to the CIFF. I had the privilege of interviewing him when he came the first time to screen his second feature Campfire. Truly, Joe Cedar is one of the best filmmakers on the cinema scene working anywhere in the world today.
Yasher Ko'ach, Joe!