Now in its 19th year, the Israel Film Festival continues to offer complex portraits of a land known largely through sound bites. The loss of innocence figures prominently in several selections, including Mike Brant: Laisse Moi T’Aimer, Erez Laufer’s compelling documentary about the singer who rose from the slums of Haifa to the summit of pop stardom in Paris before his death (most likely a suicide) in 1975, at the age of 28. Startlingly beautiful, blessed with charisma and talent, onstage Brant combined the kitschy sex appeal of Engelbert Humperdinck with a soulful magnetism. A rich array of archival footage and interviews confirms his gifts while conjuring up the vanished worlds of 1960s Israel and the swinging nightlife in Tehran and Paris a decade later.
Two women directors offer impressive short features. Hadar Friedlich’s debut, Slaves of the Lord, is an intense look at the inner world of a confused young zealot. On the eve of Passover, Tamar, a melancholy, Orthodox girl, is studying for her bat mitzvah, but she’s also battling the voices in her head that arise from a relentless obsession with her own impurity. In her lighter moments, she and a friend sneak peeks at the women in the mikvah (or ritual bath), and read juicy passages of the Talmud by flashlight in bed. Friedlich vividly evokes a borderland where adolescent angst, egged on by extreme piety, turns to pathology. Dina Zvi-Riklis’s The Postwoman also focuses on one character’s fantasies. Levana, a solitary mail carrier no longer in the first bloom of youth, develops a crush on a banker (Moshe Ivgi). She initiates and carries on an epistolary romance with him, pretending to be a more educated and elegant woman. This sensitive if featherweight film is pleasantly escapist fare for a country now ravaged by the failure of politics.