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A History of Israeli Cinema: A Film by Raphael Nadjari

Distributed by Alive Mind Education, 56 West 45th St., Suite 805, New York, NY 10036; 212-398-3112
Produced by Bruno Nahon, Amir Feingold, & Paul Rozenberg
Directed by Raphael Nadjari
DVD, color, 208 min. (Disc 1: 103 min.; Disc 2: 105 min.)
College - Adult
Film Studies, Israeli Studies

Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

Date Entered: 5/10/2010

Israelis, including high school and college students, may find this review of more than 70 years of filmmaking in their country—1933 to the present—to be interesting and informative. It is well made, in its camera work, pacing, and editing. The interviewees—for the most part well-known Israeli film critics, academics, and industry participants—are clearly knowledgeable about the subject and they speak articulately. However, for non-Israeli viewers, this historical review suffers from a fatal flaw as a teaching tool: if audience members haven’t already seen all or, at least, most, of the films being discussed, they are left wondering what the experts are talking about. Viewers must already be very familiar with Israeli cinema to get much out of this documentary history.

Imagine trying to understand the significance and impact of diverse films such as Casablanca, Fantasia, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frankenstein, Roman Holiday, Psycho, etc., if you’ve never seen any of them, but are shown a few brief clips of each one that last less than a minute along with a critic’s pronouncement that this or that film was a turning point, an example of a particular genre, an iconic drama, a showcase for realism or imagery or suspense, or the like. You would probably end up the way A History of Israeli Cinema left me—puzzled, unenlightened, and feeling rather ignorant.

The clips from the films under discussion are too brief to be revealing, but the commentators assume their pronouncements are being heard in a context of familiarity with the material. At times, the pace is too rapid and the information being conveyed cannot be absorbed comfortably. English-speaking viewers are trying to decipher the English subtitles at the same time they are trying to understand what is being portrayed on the screen. Many too many of the words in the subtitles are obscured by the backgrounds against which they appear, which is frustrating in the extreme. This documentary needs closed captioning for everyone, not solely the hard of hearing!

In short, while the documentary is probably an excellent offering for those in the know, for this reviewer, its ideas and opinions were completely lost. Though this might be a good enrichment for film study classes that have viewed the films being discussed before seeing it, it does not inform the casual viewer or the novice viewer who lacks this background. As for enriching a curriculum on Israeli studies, the same is true—if viewers don’t know the films, they won’t be able to make the connections that seem so obvious to the documentary’s commentators.

Recommended with reservations for American audiences.