Joseph Cedar

Israeli director explores Religious Zionist community to great acclaim.

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Campfire

Cedar's next film moved away from the thriller genre, but continued to hone in on his strongest suit: his understanding of, if not quite sympathy for, religious Zionism. Set in 1981, Campfire, follows recently widowed Rachel Gerlik who is planning to start a new life in a West Bank settlement along with her two teenage daughters. The problem is, her daughters have no interest in leaving Jerusalem; Esti has a boyfriend and a social life in the city, and the endearingly gawky Tami is unmoved by the religious and social posturing of the settlers.

Cedar understands the milieu, and captures their ideals, and their terrible shortcomings, with impressive potency. The same young men who shed tears at the death of Yonatan Netanyahu in the movie they watch about the Entebbe raid stand by idly as one of their friends is sexually assaulted. Their compassion for the heroic Israeli dead does not extend to the suffering of their peers.

Campfire details the intimate details of the inner lives of the settlers to an extent rarely before seen on the Israeli screen: their passions, their hatreds (teenage boys chant "Shimon Peres is a son of a bitch" while dancing around a campfire), their motivations (moving to the settlements is not only about the Bible, it's also about bigger backyards), and the damage they can cause to their own. Rachel and her daughters ultimately choose to opt out of the settlers' life, but Campfire paints a portrait both realistic and disturbing of the settlers' mindset.

Beaufort

Beaufort approaches the grand narrative of the right-wing resurgence in Israeli politics and culture from another perspective: the military. The tightly controlled narrative takes place almost entirely within literal fortress walls: the Crusader fort of Beaufort in southern Lebanon from which Israeli soldiers patrol the surrounding countryside, ever on alert for the next Hezbollah attack.

The movie takes place in 2000, shortly before the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. Israel is on the defensive, and on the way out the door, and everyone--civilian and warrior, Jew and Arab--knows it. The mood is jocular but pinched; the soldiers are boys playing at war, but the consequences are real. 

From amidst the morass of relatively undifferentiated soldiers, two in particular capture our attention. The closely cropped hair and sculpted cheekbones of Ziv (Ohad Knoller) mark him immediately as the ideal fighting man: thoughtful, quiet, intense, and dedicated. Liraz (Oshri Cohen), meanwhile, is sloppily dressed, easily agitated, and clearly not from the educated Ashkenazi milieu from which Ziv hails.

Ziv is doubtful about the purpose of their presence at Beaufort. His uncle had been killed in the very same spot 18 years prior, during the Lebanon war, fighting over the same piece of land. Liraz is a true believer in the justice of the Israeli cause, and the wisdom of the Israeli leadership. If they are in Lebanon, there must be good cause.

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Saul Austerlitz

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