Is it too soon to talk about foreign films and the Oscars? Fill the Void, Rama Burshtein's glimpse into Tel Aviv's Hasidic world, Israel's entry for Academy Award consideration, should make the top five. Among the many pleasures of the New York Film Festival in its 50th year, this stunning drama takes the viewer into the marriage practices of a hermetic community, offering an intimate, if fictional view, of how matches are made. Ultimately a love story, Fill the Void is most surprising in revealing unexpected emotional connection and subdued passion in places where love is most often a last consideration.
As such, this is an appealing subject for any culture -- witness the popularity of all things Jane Austen. Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Picture Classics, the film's distributor said in a recent interview, the most successful foreign films are specific to their culture; even if you don't read a word of subtitles, you still get the picture. With Tom Bernard, Barker's SPC distributed last year's Oscar-winning A Separation. This team is distributing another favorite, Michael Haneke's Amour.
SPC has also signed up a strong documentary: a thrilling account of Israel's history through interviews with six former leaders of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, Dror Moreh's The Gatekeepers begins with a question, if you have the opportunity to take out a leading terrorist and he's in the company of innocents, do you risk their lives to achieve your goal?
As terrorism is the key concern of the 21st century, the film's intense focus on security and questions about the possibilities of Middle East peace resonate, yet issues of compassion, humanity, and morality for Jews and Palestinians weigh heavily for the Shin Bet six. This frank window into the divide between the Shin Bet's intelligence and Israel's politicians and military will give viewers insight into the complexities of why peace in that region remains so tragically elusive.
The feature filmmaker Dror Moreh, in New York for The Gatekeepers' NYFF debut, said he took his cues from Errol Morris's Fog of War as McNamara is allowed camera time to apologize for and explain the Vietnam War. Should not his picture have been about Ariel Sharon, in a similar interview about hawkish policies? Yes, he said with a smile, that's another film.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.
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