METRO NEW YORK SHOUT-OUT: Shemi Zarhin is on his way to NYC soon as a special guest of the Manhattan JCC. The screening of The World is Funny is scheduled for Weds 10/23 @ 8:30 PM, preceded by a one hour “Conversation with Shemi Zarhin.” Click HERE for complete details. I’ve already registered for both events, so if you’re there too, please find me there to say hi.
TOP PICKS: FEATURES
My top pick in the feature category for 2013 is The World is Funny, an imaginative piece of ensemble filmmaking written and directed by Shemi Zarhin. This is the third feature I have seen by Zarhin, and it is by far the best. The others are Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi (which I liked a lot), and Aviva Mon Amour (which I wanted to like more than I did).
The World is Funny creates a universe that is simultaneously dense and specific, but also light and universal. How did Zarhin do it? It’s a miracle. Multiple plot lines spin around each other, making it very difficult to pick just one, so here are two.
“Golan” (Eli Finish) is a DJ on the most popular radio show in Tiberias. He becomes obsessed with a popular performer named Shaike Levi (a real person who was once part of a comedy group called HaGashash HaHiver). Golan wants Shaike to come to Tiberias. Shaike, based in Tel Aviv, says no way. Who will win this battle of wills?
“Roni” (Yehezkel Lazarov) teaches a writing class for adults at the community center. Ever-patient, Roni coaches his students, teasing stories from them about the people of Tiberias, which he believes is the “Real Israel,” the Israel that has endured for millennia well beyond the hype of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
On this frame, using a cast of almost 50 characters, Zarhin weaves every strand of story, artfully combining the warp of comedy with the woof of tragedy, until, by the end, Tiberias, has become a thoroughly magical “everytown.”
My Best Supporting Actor pick for 2013 is Yehezkel Lazarov who plays “Roni” (the teacher) in The World is Funny. Lazarov was my Best Actor pick last year (in The Fifth Heaven), but he’s almost unrecognizable here. Only at the end, when there’s a sudden tragic revelation, did I fully believe it was the same guy. Amazingly, Lazarov also turns up in Let’s Dance. Who knew Lazarov was not just a great actor, but also one of Israel’s best-known choreographers?
My Best Supporting Actress pick for 2013 is Naama Shitrit who plays “Tzefi” in The World is Funny. Tzefi is a diminutive for “Tzfat,” the city Wikipedia calls “Safed.” Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, is often hot and muggy; Tzfat, the highest spot in Northern Israel, is relatively cool and dry. Thus the joke (repeated several times in The World is Funny): “Ah Tiberias! Why aren’t you Tzfat?!?” To show she is in on the joke, Shitrit, sweet-faced and adorable, sometimes calls herself “Shula from Afula.” OK, you’ll just have to trust me on this: In context, it’s all—well—funny!
Click here to learn more about HaGashashim: “I must admit that HaGashashim was new to me, but after looking them up and watching The World is Funny a second time, I now see them as the Israeli version of Monty Python’s Flying Circus…”
Click here to read my chat with Shemi Zarhin (conducted in 2006 when he came to Chicago as a guest of the Chicago International Film Festival): “My family, they came originally from Algeria to live in the north of Israel, in Safed. My great, great grandfather, he lived in Algeria. I was born and grew up in Tiberias.“
The World is Funny received an unprecedented FOURTEEN Ophir Award nominations from the Israel Film Academy last year, but when the night ended, it had won only one award. Worse still, that award, Best Casting, while well-deserved, was also a minor award in context. In part this result was due to the fact that none of the actors in an ensemble film like this gets much screen time (certainly not in comparison with lead actors in most dramas), so good as they are, it’s hard to compete head-to-head.
But what really crippled The World is Funny was the out-of-nowhere success of Rama Burshtein, the writer/director of Fill the Void. Fill the Void received THIRTEEN Ophir Award nominations and ended the night winning in SEVEN categories including the all important Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Film. (FYI, the winner of the Ophir Award for Best Film automatically becomes Israel’s candidate for the “Best Foreign Language Film” Oscar each year.)
Since I have already written extensively about Fill the Void on this Blog (“my Jewish Blog“) as well as on The Hot Pink Pen (“my Feminist Blog“), I won’t repeat myself here, but just say that this boggles my mind and makes me really, really sad
Top Photo: Naama Shitrit (pronounced “Na-ah-mah”) as “Tzefi”aka “Shula from Afula.”
Bottom Photo: Yehezkel Lazarov (top left) as “Roni.” And look: There’s Naama Shitrit again (as one of the students in his class). Tzefi pops up everywhere–she’s like a sprite–the Tinkerbell of Tiberias
Photo Credits: Shemi Zarhin/Pie Films LTCD
Click HERE to read more about filmmaker Shemi Zarhin.
POSTED BELOW: Photo of Shemi Zarhin on set with Shaike Levy (pronounced “Shy-Kee”). Photo Credit: Rafi Daloya (http://www.edb.co.il/name/n0008911/)
(IMPORTANT CAVEAT: I found this photo online at http://www.edb.co.il/title/t0027482/photos/id=12864 If this photo is under copyright protection, please contact me ASAP at tzivi AT msn DOT com!!!)