Israelis on Screen

Blond Hair, Blue Eyes, and a Bad Accent.

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Modern Portrayals

In recent years, the Israeli trend has re-emerged, with Steven Spielberg's Munich (2005) at the forefront. Munich retains the stunt-casting, "that-guy-couldn’t-possibly-be-Jewish" feel, with future James Bond Daniel Craig as a South African explosives expert, and Aussie Geoffrey Rush as a Mossad case officer. Eric Bana is more serviceable as Avner, an ex-Mossad agent turned global vigilante, but Spielberg's film, in small doses, went with the most audacious Hollywood casting decision of all: having Israeli actors depict themselves.

Acclaimed Israeli actresses Ayelet Zurer and Gila Almagor played Avner's wife and mother, respectively. For Zurer, her role in Munich has led to an increasingly high-profile career in American films, with roles in Vantage Point (2008) and the upcoming Da Vinci Code sequel Angels & Demons (2009).

With Israeli television shows and movies (like Be'Tipul, or Cannes prizewinner Jellyfish) in such hot demand of late, more Israelis are likely to obtain roles in non-Israeli films. In part, this is due to the globalization of present-day Hollywood, in which actors from around the world are offered roles. But it also has something to do with Israel's cinematic and literary successes in the past decade.

American film's newfound interest in performers from around the world offers the possibility of Israeli performers getting to play big-screen versions of themselves for worldwide audiences. In all likelihood, though, future depictions of Israelis onscreen will continue to feature American stars doing their best with the tricky Israeli accent, with the men displaying copious chest hair and the women showing off henna-rinsed hair. But even a few Israeli actors getting the opportunity to play themselves--so to speak--could make for a new kind of Israeli in the movies. 

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Saul Austerlitz

Saul Austerlitz is a writer and film critic in New York.