Haifa International Film Festival 2023: Israeli Feature Films

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The 39th Haifa International Film Festival will take place from September 28 – October 7, 2023. The Haifa International Film Festival takes place with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Sports – Israeli Film Council, the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Regional Cooperation, and the Haifa Municipality. The festival’s Artistic Director is Yaron Shamir, and it is produced by Ethos – The Haifa Municipality Art, Culture and Sports Association Company. Tickets and additional information will be available on the Haifa Film Festival website: https://www.haifaff.co.il/eng.

Director Avi Nesher with The Monkey House stars Adir Miller and Suzanna Papian/Photo: Iris Nesher

Special events at the festival include a festive screening of Avi Nesher’s new film The Monkey House, with the director and cast in attendance, in the context of the festival’s prestigious Masters Program. Nesher’s film marks the first time that an Israeli film has been selected to participate in this program. Written and directed by Avi Nesher, The Monkey House stars Adir Miller as Amitay Kariv, a novelist whose popularity peaked in the 1960s, only to wane in the decades that followed. Blaming current cultural politics for his lack of success, in the late 80s, Kariv decides to fight for what he feels is his rightful place in the Israeli literary canon. His strategy for success is blatantly immoral, bordering on the criminal. To complete his plan he needs an accomplice, someone who is a literary researcher – or can pretend to be one. Enter Suzanna Papian as Margo, an unsuccessful actress currently living with her sister, and very much in need of work, who takes on the role of the scholar. It will be a life-altering experience for both Kariv and his young assistant.

The festival’s tradition of screening Israeli classic films continues this year with a restored version of Daniel Wachsmann’s 1990 film The Appointed. Shuli Rand stars as Shemaya, a rabbi’s son who becomes a magician, who performs in minor venues. He meets Oshra, portrayed by Ronit Elkabetz, a woman with true magical powers. She becomes part of his act, and together they perform real magic onstage, amazing audiences. Shemaya’s father is terminally ill, and he asks his followers to bring his son home to take on the legacy of a Hasidic rabbi and leader of the community. Shemaya takes on the responsibility, but his attraction to Oshra is in conflict with his new role in life.

Israeli Feature Film Competition

7 new Israeli films will compete in the Israeli Feature Film Competition:*

No Shade in the Desert

No Shade in the Desert/Photo: Damien Dufresne

Israel/2023/102 min/Hebrew, French, with English and Hebrew subtitles

Director: Yossi Aviram; Screenplay: Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Yossi Aviram; Production: Yael Fogel, Letitia Gonzales, Orit Zamir, Yoav Roeh, Annie Ohayon, Farid Razkalla; Cast: Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Yona Rozenkier

45-year-old Uri accompanies his mother, who is about to testify in the trial of a Nazi war criminal that will take place in Tel Aviv. In court he sees Anna, a French writer, whom he had met 25 years ago in Turino, Italy. Uri feels that he has met the woman who will save his life, who will save him from his life. But she does not recognize him and denies that they had a love affair. Why does she deny the affair? Perhaps their travels in the desert will clarify matters.

Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay/Photo: Saar Mizrahi

Israel, Sri Lanka/2023/97 min/Hebrew, English, with English and Hebrew subtitles

Director: Marco Carmel; Screenplay: Marco Carmel, Mor Polanuer; Production: Chilik Michaeli, Avraham Pirchi, Leon Edery, Moshe Edery (United King Films), Aharon Sade, Jeffrey Hecktman; Cast: Maor Schwitzer, Joy Rieger, Yadin Gellman

Three surfers from Israel travel to Sri Lanka’s Arugam Bay following their military service, to rest and find closure after the death of their friend, and the boyfriend of one them, who was killed in a military operation in Beirut. Their trip takes an unexpected turn when they encounter a variety of other travelers, including Iranian surfers and an American drug dealer.

Debbie Was Here

Debbie Was Here/Photo: Daria Nor

Israel/2023/97 min/Hebrew, English, with English and Hebrew subtitles

Written and directed by Dana Goldberg; Production: Eviatar Moncaz, Monchaz Films, Dana Goldberg, Claudia Landsberger; Cast: Ayelet Margalit, Carmit Mesilati, Hava Levy Rozalsky

Debbie is celebrating her 51st birthday in a closed ward at Geha Mental Health Center. Riva, Debbie’s partner, arrives with Michal, Riva’s student in video-therapy, to make a small, intimate film with Debbie. Michal is drawn into Debbie and Riva’s world, but the narrative they present to her is full of gaps and contradictions. Curiosity and excessive motivation turn into obsession, and Michal crosses boundaries to seek answers. Following the trail of crumbs scattered by Debbie, she locates the secondary characters in this story. The fragments of information revealed by her camera strengthen the feeling that there is more to this story than meets the eye.

The Vanishing Soldier

The Vanishing Soldier/Photo: David Stozmeister

Israel/2023/95 min/Hebrew, French, with English and Hebrew subtitles

Director: Dani Rosenberg; Screenplay: Dani Rosenberg, Amit Kliger; Production: Chilik Michaeli, Avraham Pirchi, Itamar Pirchi, Leon Edery, Moshe Edery (United King Films); Cast: Ido Tako, Mika Reiss, Efrat Ben Tzur, Tiki Dayan

Shlomi, an 18-year-old soldier, flees the battlefield in Gaza and heads for home. He learns that his commanders believe he was kidnapped during the battle. With his photo about to be broadcast on all media, Shlomi realizes that he is not running away from the soldiers he thought were searching for him, but from his own identity, which has become a trap. The tragi-comic journey takes place over the course of 24 hours in the heavy heat of the Tel Aviv streets, shifting between hope and terror, between romance and nightmares.

Victory

Victory/Photo: Moshe Nachumovich

Israel/2023/119 min/Hebrew with English and Hebrew subtitles

Director: Eliran Peled; Screenplay: Eliran Peled, Yonatan Blumenfeld; Production: Chilik Michaeli, Avraham Pirchi, Shalom Eisenbach, Eliran Peled, Leon Edery, Moshe Edery (United King Films); Cast: Daniel Litman, Amit Farkash, Yadin Gellman, Yael Sztulman, Dor Harari, Yoav Rotman, Orna Katz

An original musical. Israel in 1967, the days of euphoria following the victory of the Six Day War. The film presents the story of two couples from Kibbutz Netzer Sireni whose lives were entirely altered by the events of the war. It’s the story of those who lost in the victory.

Running on Sand

Running on Sand/Photo: Daniel Miller

Israel/2023/88 min/Hebrew with English and Hebrew subtitles

Director: Adar Shafran; Screenplay: Asaf Zelicovich, Yoav Hebel, Sarel Piterman; Production: Adar Shafran, Moshe Edery, Peter Rommel, Roni Abramowski; Cast: Chancela Mongoza, Kim Or Azulay, Zvika Hadar, Michael Kabia

Aumari, an Eritrean refugee who has been living in Israel for five years working as a dishwasher, is caught by the immigration police and is scheduled to be deported. At the airport, he manages to escape at the last minute, and is seen by Maccabi Netanya soccer fans who mistake him for the new, Nigerian striker who was to arrive that day. He is suddenly transformed from a refugee on the run to a superstar. Aumari does not know how to play soccer, but he does know how to connect with people and make them laugh. These skills help him survive, make positive changes in the team, and even find love. But when he becomes a refugee once more, will anyone stand by his side, and will he, for the first time in his life, be able to stop running?

Haim’s Story

Haim’s Story/Photo: Talya (Tulik) Galon

Israel/2023/109 min/Hebrew, Russian, Arabic with English and Hebrew subtitles

Written and directed by Tova Ascher; Production: Yoni Ascher; Cast: Yuval Segal, Leora Rivlin, Ilanit Ben Yaacov

Haim Issaschar, a talented and charming man, has been brought down by the vicissitudes of life and lives with his elderly mother while working as a mall security guard. Haim’s past is revealed through several figures in his life: his ex-wife, his children, and his young lover. An image emerges of a man who has missed many opportunities in his life, due to the complexities of life and unexpected events, and primarily due to a culture that oppresses the weak, blaming them for their weakness, and is lacking in compassion.

*Information on the films was provided by the festival in Hebrew