Tzivi reviews two new Israeli docs
Spring brings two new documentary films from Israel to Chicago. One I loved. The other? No so much. So let’s start with the spinach.
Mr. Gaga, which opens tonight at the Music Box Theatre on Southport, is Tomer Heymann’s new film about Ohad Naharin, the artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company. Chicago has long been a congenial host for Batsheva Dance Company performances, and their regular visits here have often been an opportunity for lively Hadassah member meet-ups. So if you love Batsheva Dance Company, you should certainly see Mr. Gaga.
I have long been a champion of films by Heymann and his brother Barak, who alternate directing duties for documentaries they co-produce together under the rubric of Heymann Brothers Films. They are prolific filmmakers and many of their prior films (such as Dancing Alfonso and Paper Dolls) have been favorites of mine at our annual Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema.
So I was surprised by my reaction Mr. Gaga, which unfolds as a fairly routine bio-doc, told in chronological order from Naharin’s early days on Kibbutz Mizra (due north of Afula) to his current role as an international cultural superstar. Of course there are many clips of Batsheva Dance Company’s uniquely athletic style, so if you are already a fan of Batsheva Dance Company, then this film is definitely for you.
But if you are new to Batsheva Dance Company, then beware. Clips of dancers in motion do not really do justice to the power of a full piece in performance, and you may come out of Mr. Gaga wondering what all the fuss is about.
To kick off the run, the Music Box has scheduled a live dance demonstration plus Q and A after the 7:15 p.m. screening tonight, March 31, hosted by Anna Long (Chicago’s own GAGA-trained dance teacher). For tickets, visit the Music Box website.
Personally, I much preferred Roger Sherman’s new film, In Search of Israeli Cuisine, which tells the story of a Jewish boy coming of age in America who learns to appreciate his heritage anew through food.
Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov travels up and down Israel from top to bottom and coast to desert, sampling a wholly unexpected diversity of tastes and textures. As he chops and stirs side by side with some of Israel’s best known restaurateurs, Solomonov learns first-hand about Israeli’s creative fusion which combines the sorrows of past with exuberant hopes for the future.
This is a theme I have long stressed in prior posts and columns, most especially in my reviews of films brought to us by the terrific programming team behind our annual Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema. We have become accustomed to describing one of Israel’s functions as “the ingathering of the exiles,” but that requires us to pay attention to all the places from which they come.
Too many Americans (including too many Jewish Americans) still think of Israel as a country founded by European Jews, especially Jews who survived the Holocaust. But this was never true and it is even less true now after several generations of intermixing.
One of my friends has a father from Yemen and a mother from Poland. Is she Ashkenazi or Mizrachi? Another friend has a father from Morocco and a mother from Rumania. Is she Ashkenazi or Sephardic? The truth is that these old divisions have ceased to be definitive, especially after Ethiopians from Africa, Bene Israel from India, and Jews from the former Soviet Union (not just from Moscow but from Georgia and Bukhara) began entering the mix.
As one wise fellow says in In Search of Israeli Cuisine, a tomato has no politics. So I strongly recommend In Search of Israeli Cuisine for both enlightenment and sheer delight, but with one caution: Make sure to eat before you go.
For more photos from both films, visit my Blog.
Top Photo: After he arrives in Israel “in search of Israeli cuisine,” Michael Solomonov of Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia learns a million different ways to make eggplant (courtesy Florentine Films 2013 / Menemsha Films 2016).
Bottom Photo: A moment from Ohad Naharin’s ecstatic “Ehad Me Yodaya,” which continues to be a highlight of all Batsheva Dance Company performances (courtesy Heymann Brothers Films).