Waiting for Armageddon (2009)
★ / ★★★★
I may never accept the radical beliefs of Christian Evangelicals regarding Armageddon or any of their methods but I hoped that I would learn something slightly profound from this documentary. Kate Davis, David Heilbroner and Franco Sacchi, the directors, didn’t have laser-like focus in the way they presented the arguments from the big picture so I was periodically left confused. Since the movie was only about an hour and ten minutes long, it constantly jumped from one issue to another such as how religious extremists were committing self-fulfilling prophecies, concerns about what would happen to Israel once God returned, and the tension between Israel and the Muslim world. It gave me the feeling that perhaps the movie was more designed toward people who didn’t know much about Evangelicals and their beliefs, not toward people who wanted grasp at information beyond the obvious. The film didn’t go into too much depth so it became redundant in terms of the individuals being interviewed essentially saying the same thing but with differing words. However, I felt a certain sadness in a few scenes such as when some of the teenagers interviewed who believed that the end of the world was coming expressed how they wished they could live full lives without having to worry about the end of the world and how it’s not fair that the end will pretty much happen in their lifetime. It also made me feel angry because I couldn’t help but think they were simply being brain-washed and all their worrying would pretty much amount to nothing. In a way, I thought their wasted youth was something to almost mourn about. Worse, they could pass on the paranoia to their own children and then their children will go through the same fears. Although I thought the movie was difficult to watch because of the opinions being expressed, I found it more frustrating that the movie didn’t have a natural flow so that it would be easy to follow. It certainly had potential to be really engaging because of such a controversial topic but it really needed to work on its pacing and the order it presented its ideas. Still, “Waiting for Armageddon” surprised me because I initially thought that the goal of the picture was to support the radical beliefs of its subjects. It wasn’t the case. It may seem like it does support its subjects’ radical beliefs in the first few minutes because the directors allowed the Evangelicals to really speak at the camera without holding back, but it ultimately allowed us to form our own opinions in the matter.
★★★ / ★★★★
“Jellyfish,” directed by Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret, peeks into the lives of three women in Israel: Batiya (Sarah Adler) who one day meets a little girl on the beach and wakes her up from the seemingly meaninglessness life she’s living; Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a Filipina who takes care of older people whose children do not have time for them and at the same time feels a lot of guilt for leaving her son to earn money from another country; and Keren (Noa Knoller), a recent bride who breaks her ankle on her wedding night and fears that her husband is cheating on him during their honeymoon. This is definitely not everyone’s kind of movie because it doesn’t have a traditional way of storytelling: a defined exposition, rising action and climax. The camera simply drops in and out of the three women’s lives yet at the same time it strives to find a commonality among them. The idea of loneliness and fear is at the forefront but one can also argue that this film is ultimately about hope and strength to keep on living. And that’s what I love about it: it’s very open to interpretations because it’s full of symbolism and elements that may or may not be real. Even though the three women’s paths do collide at some point, it doesn’t feel forced like many American movies where one circumstance changes everybody’s lives by the end of the movie. In my opinion, “Jellyfish” is the perfect title for this film because its way of telling the story and structuring of the characters is mostly dependent upon the movements on the ocean, which means it’s organic and natural. However, I do think that some of the subtitles weren’t accurate enough. I can understand Tagalog and there’s a certain disconnect between what the character is saying and what’s written at the bottom of the screen. However, most foreign films have that problem so I’m not going to heavily hold that issue against this picture. If one is up for watching something a little different, “Jellyfish” is a recommendation because of its inherent poetry and sadness.
The Band’s Visit
★★★ / ★★★★
This movie put a smile on my face from beginnning to end because the characters find something magical in awkward situations. An Egyptian police force (who is also a band) visits Israel to perform at a ceremony in an Arab arts center but their transportation did not pick them up. They have no choice but to spend the night in a middle of nowhere desert town where they meet kind Israelis (led by the strangely alluring Ronit Elkabetz). The leader of the police force is played with quiet power by Sasson Gabai. From the moment the film started, he is established as a serious person who is deeply conflicted. Later on, we find out why he keeps people at an arm’s length. Through his interactions with Elkabetz, we see chinks in Gabai’s armor; it is touching in just the right amount and it was done in a natural way. Elkabetz impressed me in so many ways because reminded me of Sonia Braga’s acting style: she can be tender and seductive while at the same time standing up for something she believes to be right. Last but not least, Saleh Bakri as the playboy member of the force manages to provide warmth in the picture. Even though he gets distracted too easily by women, he knows how to treat them right. His relationship with Gabai is interesting but it wasn’t fully developed. When the film ended, I felt like the filmmakers were just about to explore that relationship. But that’s what I love about slice of life pictures: not every problem or conflict has to be solved in a span of two hours. Even though this film barely runs for an hour and thirty minutes, it accomplished a lot. One of the best themes of the movie is finding similarities between two very different cultures, whether it comes to music, relationships, and being wounded by the past. The three main characters share a certain loneliness and I could identify with each of them equally. I also find this film commendable because it did not result to being political. It’s about people being themselves and why that should be enough to be able to relate to one another in a meaningful way.
The Bubble (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★
This movie showed my limited knowledge of the Israeli culture, which I think is a great thing because I’m that much more aware by the end of the day. I was surprised by how much the characters are aware and admire the American and European cultures. I enjoyed the references such as the play (which was also turned into a movie) “Bent,” competitions like “American Idol,” to actors like River Phoenix. And those are only some of the references that are talked about; some are posters on the walls and some can be seen on their television sets. In a way, these characters use foreign media to escape the unstable politics of their country. On top of that, the characters deal with finding romance–whether it’s a woman (Daniela Virtzer) searching for a man, or a man (Ohad Knoller) searching for another man (Yousef “Joe” Sweid). For an LGBT picture, it’s very political. I imagine casual moviegoers who want a typical boy-meets-boy story will be very frustrated with this because politics and romance get an equal amount of screen time. But that’s the reason why I was consistently interested in what was going on in the film: the LGBT characters are complex in a different way. It’s nice to see how the characters show their love for country by voicing out how much they oppose the war instead of supporting it. From some of the people I met, they think that the only way to show love for your country is to support its agendas–whatever they may be. This is one of the more meaningful, sensitive, intelligent, and challenging LGBT movies I’ve seen in a while.