Film Chat: “The Wedding Plan”

Promoted during the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia, the film The Wedding Plan finally opened for American audiences, after having received three Ophir Awards, or Israeli Oscars. In Hebrew with English subtitles, the film was written and directed by Rama Burshtein, an Orthodox Israeli, and the creator of the award-winning 2012 film Fill the Void.

In “The Wedding Plan,” protagonist Michal is a 32-year-old religiously observant woman, who runs a mobile petting zoo. Excitedly planning for her upcoming wedding, she is shocked when her fiancé reluctantly admits that he doesn’t love her. Nevertheless, she decides to move forward with her wedding preparations, trusting that if God wants her to be married, He will find a husband for her. The wedding is scheduled for the last night of Hanukkah, leaving exactly one month for a new groom to materialize. Her family is doubtful, and even her rabbi wonders what will happen to Michal’s faith if she doesn’t find a groom under the chuppah.

An American director would have made this film into a romantic comedy, but Burshtein aimed for something deeper, more poignant. Her debut film, “Fill the Void,” is about a religious woman who must make a decision about whether or not to marry her late sister’s husband. Burshtein writes and directs stories set in the religious Jewish world, but which illuminate human emotions common to us all.

Eat like a Sabra

— by Laurel Fairworth

Shakshouka in sauceThe Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia (IFF) is celebrating an important milestone from March 12 through April 3, 2016: two decades of showcasing the best movies from Israel and the Middle East. The IFF is the only independent non-profit Israeli film festival in the country. What started as a passion project has grown into an eagerly awaited cinematic occurrence.

In honor of the IFF’s 20th anniversary season, Giovani’s Bar and Grill, at 15th and Chestnut Streets in Center City, has concocted a dish called the Israeli “Big Picture” Shakshouka. For every platter ordered, which includes pita and Israeli chopped salad, the restaurant will make a donation to the film festival.

Shakshouka, a traditional Mediterranean dish, is made up of a spicy tomato sauce with the Middle Eastern herb and spice blend za’atar. The dish also contains paprika, parsley, garlic, feta, olives, onions, hot peppers and of course, perfectly poached eggs. Simon Atiya, his brother Ami and his brother-in-law Haim Atias have been running Giovani’s for more than a decade, and are excited that Israeli cuisine is finally catching on.

“This reminds us of home,” says Atias. “The hearty stew-like meal is often served at breakfast, but can really be enjoyed any time of the day.”

The Israeli Big Picture Shakshouka is not on the menu at Giovani’s, but it is available during the Israeli Film Festival’s run from March 12 through April 3. The dish must be requested and will be made fresh on the spot. Says festival founder Mindy Chiqui, “Watching movies from the Middle East can whet your appetite for foods from the same region.”

The Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia Platinum anniversary

Twenty years ago there were very few films from the Middle East being shown in Philadelphia. A local trio vowed to change that and thus in 1996 the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia was born. Two decades later it is going strong, playing to sold out crowds, bringing talented actors and directors to our area and attracting the most prestigious in foreign cinema.

Film Chat: A Borrowed Identity

dancing_arabs-629937_full[1]The final selection in the 19th season of the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia was Eran Riklis’s A Borrowed Identity, originally titled Dancing Arabs, based on the 2004 novel by Sayed Kashua of the same title.

It is a provocative film that sensitively portrays the alienation of Arabs living in Israel, as they are subjected to legal obstacles, border crossings, and prejudice. It is also discomforting to watch Jews being the oppressor. However, it is a well-crafted piece of art.

The protagonist, Eyad, is a young Arab Muslim boy who wins a scholarship to a prestigious school in Jerusalem, after a humorous incident in which he solves a complicated riddle posed on an Arab show on cable television. The social isolation and public humiliation of being an Arab in a Jewish state impedes his progress. Along the way, he is assigned to visit a disabled Jewish boy, Jonathan, as part of the school’s community service requirement. [Read more…]