“Let others make movies about war” - The Cinema of George Obadiah

Edited by Nir Ferber
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“It could well be that I don’t feel the same thing that you do. I also can’t be reborn. It’s inside of me. And there’s no getting rid of it. The tragedies, the powerful dramas, the sad stories – it’s in my blood, it’s in my life.” This raw confessional, tinged with a mix of defeat but also unapologetic self-awareness, was delivered by George Obadiah during a 1984 conversation with author Ilan Shaul, (an excerpt from the latter’s book, Sea of Tears: War Culture, 2022, featuring rare interviews with the main players in Israel’s Middle Eastern/Mizrahi cultural revolution), almost two years since Obadiah’s last film which ultimately, became the director’s cinematic swansong. This prolific filmmaker’s body of work who, at one point between 1971 – 1982, was directing and producing at least one local firm per year (sometimes two!), adding up to a total of 13; this, on top of an additional 25 films he had directed outside of Israel – earned him a reputation as quite the controversial creator amongst critics and the establishment. Both consistently denied Obadiah any recognition or validation for his work, and towards the end of his days, audiences too who, for him where the main drive behind his filmmaking, also turned their backs on his films.

Obadiah was constantly scouting for scripts. He remained ever eager to deliver and tell stories – and the more, the better. According to Michael Shvili who produced four of his films, Obadiah was notoriously frugal on set: every shot had to be done in one take, and it was exceedingly rare that the crew was asked to reshoot footage that had already been shot (taken from The Israeli Cinema Testimonial Database.) ‘Georgie’ was a craftsman – filmmaking was his craft. He started out as a film distributor in Baghdad, his hometown where he was born 1925, and where he owned a bunch of cinemas. In his twenties, he moved to Tehran – which had one of the most happening film scenes in Asia at the time, not to mention the whole Middle East – where he embarked on a prolific film career. Two years after directing Harbour of Love (1967), an Iranian-Israeli coproduction, Obadiah arrived in Israel – armed with his full set of filmmaking tools and sentimentalist sympathies and set out to recreate his success, in Hebrew. With that in mind, it is only natural that his Israeli debut effort, Ariana (1971) was a remake of one of his earlier Iranian films.

Obadiah’s heartfelt candour in his aforementioned quote echoes the genre with which he became most synonymous, despite not working exclusively within its framework: melodramas. The combination of the genre’s most distinct features: a drama of heightened emotions with a soundtrack that narrates the characters’ extreme woes and inner turmoils became a trademark not just in classical Hollywood films but mostly in nonwestern film industries, e.g., Turkish and Egyptian film and of course, the telenovela – the Latin American TV equivalent. Obadiah, himself, was the genre’s local ambassador and in a way, also the pioneer of Israeli melodramas. As such, the titles of his films – Ariana (1971), Nurit (1972), Sarit (1974), Midnight Entertainer (1977), West Side Girl (1979), and Nurit (1982) – all suggest a distinct connection to the world of women. These permanently distressed damsels – whether facing romantic, familial, physical, professional, or class struggles – are beholden to forces far greater than them and are looking for some kind of respite, usually through song, under the canopy of love.

The aesthetic in Obadiah films tends to play second fiddle to the storyline: many frame compositions, despite their wholesomeness and sheer wealth of detail, do come across as random. The editing too, is not as precise or meticulous as it could be, nor does it seem to show any particular regard for continuity between the current shot and predecessor, at times even shrugging off any sync issues with the soundtrack. What his films are really after is empathy and relatability: and any technical and artistic resources Obadiah has in his arsenal are ultimately there to serve that dramatic end goal. Like his storylines, Obadiah’s filmmaking style can also be described as exaggerated and over-the-top: from low camera angles to heighten the contrast between good and bad to smash cuts to closeups of faces riddled with suffering for greater dramatic effect, and a truly bizarre acting philosophy that endorses delivering soliloquies to an imaginary point just outside the frame – thereby echoing the pathos of the words spoken.

Whether as testimony to his versatility or simple lack of choice, the majority of Obadiah’s earlier films weren’t so much working-class melodramas but rather nods to the other end of popular film, i.e. comedies of errors and identity ‘switcheroos.’ His films Fishke Goes to War (1971) and Nahtche and the General (1972) are both built on common tropes often seen in farces and folktales, with a whole bunch of slapstick peppered in for good measure; however, their adherence to the Israel’s early 1970s distinct national, or rather nationalist climate is unmistakable, including the IDF’s be-all end-all sacrosanct status in society and the crisis of masculinity – all themes that often recurred in war dramas and the New Sensitivity’s intimate films; two of Israeli film’s most common genres at the time.

However, through the practically exclamatory patriotism of his early works, in his subsequent films Obadiah, bit by bit, began stripping the Israeli playing field of all its typical markers and iconography because after all, what he was always most interested in was a universal exploration of humankind. This trend is noticeable once taking in the geographical aspect of his films that are usually set in ‘nonplaces’ – unmarked territories and areas that are neither developed nor regulated; a peripheral space in a classist sense, as opposed to an ethnic one. Even known settings such as Tiberias (in Nurit), posh north Tel Aviv (in 1974’s Day of Judgement, and also Sarit and West Side Girl), and mostly Jaffa (Street 60, 1976; Ariana, and West Side Girl), somehow seem out of place and exterritorial, thereby unburdening these sites of their familiar load in order to fashion Obadiah’s alternate universe in which the universal has taken over for the local.

Another alternative to the then-prevalent mood in Israeli film is the product of Obadiah’s approach to soundtrack. Here too, distinct influences of Egyptian and Turkish film are easily recognisable. Obadiah’s cultural (and ethnic) heritage peers out of every musical choice and the way it is used – from classical Arab music to Greek music, and even Israeli ‘Middle Eastern/Mizrahi’ music in its nascent years (esteemed Israeli singer-songwriter Ahuva Ozeri has a musical cameo in Street 60 where she both sings and plays) – all of that, coupled with local pop music which, at the time, was still taking its baby steps alongside Israeli folk and rock music. Beyond the catchy hooks and the novel use of electronic technology, the new sound had a distinct air of ‘someplace else’ about it, and a connection with the international. Pop’s foreignness was also evident in the overall stylising and colourfulness of the world of popular music which suggests financial affluence – an idyllic resolution to Obadiah’s films in which wealth and happiness blissfully coexist.

In his films, Obadiah used success in the music business as a way of climbing up the social ladder and indeed, it is the big hit single or tune that eventually lead the protagonists to their happy ending. Like his fictional heroes and heroines who manage to tap into their inner voice to find respite from their suffering, Obadiah too turns to art in order to garner sympathy. Many of his peers who had worked with him recall that on more than one occasion, he was seen dabbing a tear on set, overcome with emotion – yet another anecdote that joins all the otherness and foreignness that have come to define his body of work in Israeli film culture. In Obadiah’s world, both men and women cry – at any and all hours of the day.

Throughout his whole career, George Obadiah stayed true to his language which speaks to, and of our most fundamental, human urges in the most direct, unfiltered way. I picked up on this mode of directness in a small, recurring gesture in the majority of his films: with everything going on and still well within the perimeters of the fictional world, suddenly and completely out of the blue, one of the characters will turn their head to face the camera directly, thereby breaking the fourth wall. “Tonight, I’m having everyone round for kibbeh,” actor Arieh Elias’s character says in Nurit, whilst looking directly at us, cheeky grin all over his face. Then in Midnight Entertainer, Tiki (Tikva) Dayan winks at the camera, sharing a coy secret with us.

Whilst these films are very raw, formulaic, and supposedly predictable to the extreme, I daresay that whenever watching them, one will find at least one dazzling, surprising, and highly extraordinary moment. Whether such moments were made in good or bad taste is a fundamental question that equally hangs over Obadiah’s oeuvre – who, echoing David Perlov (in his brilliant, foreshadowing 1974 article, Levantinism? Why Not?)  I consider to be Israel’s first Levantine filmmaker. After all, Perlov’s got a point.

I have put together 15 clips for this collection that provide precious insight into George Obadiah’s style and legacy. I invite you to strap in and prepare to experience all the emotional upheaval, bottomless pits of despair, and highest echelons of joy along the trajectory which Obadiah never ceased to travel.
Please be advised that every clip is accompanied by a short introductory text below.

Movie clips

"Obadiah recreates his success in Israel: Footage taken from the set of "Ariana

This bite-sized story taken from the Carmel Reels which, as was customary in these newsreels, mixes dry highbrow language with an upbeat montage and flickers of expressive cinematography bolstered by the black and white footage, is a veritable slice of history. This most likely is the first ever public mentioning of George Obadiah in Israel, captured on film. Shot and released in 1971, the film Ariana was produced by Michael Shvili who, until that time, had specialised in film distribution. In this instance, his name precedes that of the otherwise unknown director behind this sensationalist courtroom drama that had hundreds of thousands flock to cinemas by the droves. Ariana was in fact a remake of an Iranian film Obadiah had produced in Iran a few years prior to. The result was just about identical. Highlights of the cast include then-newcomer, actor Dassi Hadari; military troupe alum Avi Toledano who at the time was a prominent music festival star; Arieh Elias, who was already a household name amongst film lovers; and seasoned stage actors Yitzhak Shiloh and Abraham Ronai, the latter of whom would remain permanently typecast as the greedy, smarmy European-Ashkenazi Jew in Obadiah’s subsequent films. The interior scene featured here is set in Mr. Danieli’s lounge, played by Ronai.

Courtesy of United Studios of Israel; From Carmel-Herzliya Reel no. 585, 1971

Ariana is available for online streaming on the Israel Film Archive website. Click to watch.


Ariana – Plot first

One of melodrama’s many staples is the binary oppositions between [social] classes and worldviews – a particularly noticeable trope in a scene where penniless Cochava confronts Gabriel Shamir Esq., revealing that he had got her pregnant. The opening sequence that preceded this acrimonious encounter paints a near nonverbal picture of the hierarchy between the two: Gabriel Shamir Esq., in his open-top convertible advances at Cochava. As is evident and contrary to her – single, solitary, and with only a first name – his is known to all. Cochava is standing on the pavement, asking for a lift to Jerusalem. After giving her  a quick once over, the solicitor tells her to hop in. Of course the pipe he is puffing away at is more than just a pipe but rather, a hint of what is to come at the end of the sequence where the two share a kiss in a hotel room. Two months later, a distraught Cochava is demanding that Shamir step up to the plate, whereas he could not get her out of there fast enough, with a wad of cash and a word of advice – get an abortion. In that climatic moment in which their polar differences are as clear as day, Cochava proves that she is indeed pure of heart when she hurls all those pound notes [pre-shekel Israeli currency] at the corrupt solicitor and predicts that he will live to regret this.

A couple of scene footnotes: After Cochava has stormed out of the office, the camera goes back to Shamir and shows him collecting all the scattered banknotes, as if to dial up the contempt that viewers are meant to feel for him. The second note refers to another element caught in Obadiah’s frame: an unidentified production crew member seen sat on the floor. Thus, the fictional world finds itself in a head-on collision with the outside world in a rare oversight that may have sloppiness written all over it but also, however inadvertently, captures Obadiah’s clear priorities in his storytelling: plot first, then art.

Courtesy of Shoval Films.

Ariana is available for online streaming on the Israel Film Archive website. Click to watch.

Ariana – Tears

Cochava is in labour, and at a dire cost: she is slowly dying whilst the ambulance is still nowhere in sight. Zohara Mizrahi, this earth angel who had taken in her distant relation, is trying to distract Cochava from any dark thoughts but death, indeed, is imminent. Per Cochava’s wish, baby Ariana is given to the childless Mizrahis who will raise her as if she were their own, all the while keeping the truth about the identity of her birth parents a secret. Ariana can’t very well have two mothers, can she? And Cochava is after all childless. At a later point in the film, the truth will indeed come out in a court of law. What the two scenes share is more than just the dramatic build up, i.e. the dark secret and its inevitable reveal, but also the rivers – no, tsunamis of tears drowning them both. Steve Neale wrote that melodrama-induced crying comes in two stages: the pain over one’s loss, and the demand for some form of restitution. Similarly in Ariana, the loss of Cochava, the birth mother, and the estrangement from the unknown father are in no way the end of the story, and it is painstakingly obvious to us all that whilst the happy ending may be delayed – when all is said and done, it will eventually be delivered.

Courtesy of Shoval Films.

Ariana is available for online streaming on the Israel Film Archive website. Click to watch.

Ariana – A radical orchestra

George Obadiah’s interests did not lay exclusively in drama. Every bit as important to him was to incorporate elements from his culture which he loved so dearly into his films. Undoubtedly, his deepest bond was with the music and melodies of that culture. Gadi Danieli’s party, played by Avi Toledano, celebrating the end of his military service, came into being through a bizarre twist in the previous scene. Danieli Sr. asks Aboud, the greengrocer to help him find some musicians (“an orchestra” in his words) to entertain the guests. When those later come through the door, Danieli Jr. is flabbergasted at the sight of them. What on earth possessed his father to have trusted Aboud like that? There really is no logical explanation that comes to mind – considering that the two are as different as east and west, with the former’s every other word being in Yiddish, whereas the latter’s wife goes and books an oriental act as the entertainment for the party – other than it being a pretext for the musical interlude, a staple in Obadiah’s films.

Similarly to working class Israeli comedies of the day’s (aka Bourekas films) devil-may-care spirit and the camaraderie of opposites, here too everyone is dancing to the sound of the song whose lyrics are a mix of Hebrew and Arabic – Mizrahi (middle eastern) Jews, Ashkenazis, even Mr. Danieli who is unable to mask his disdain for the music. Arabic here is unchained from its imposed status as the enemy’s language and instead, is used as form of hymn to friendship – a veritable Hallelujah moment. The Mizrahi Orchestra (as it is billed in the film’s opening credits) comprised a group of inhouse musicians who used to frequent the legendary Café Noah in Tel Aviv’s controversial HaArgazim  (‘the boxes’) slum neighbourhood, all of whom were featured in Duki Dror’s 1996 documentary, Café Noah: Moshe Eliyahu, Aaron Cohen, Ovadia Yehezkel, Morad Hefetz, Felix Mizrahi on violin, and Abraham Daud on Qanun. The last two also appeared in Chalery Baghdad, director Eyal Halfon’s 2002 documentary about the Arab-speaking offshoot of Israeli radio station, The Voice of Israel’s orchestra. When Obadiah, in a bold move, lets them take centre stage, he is able to slip away, however briefly, from “proper” Israeli music’s (i.e. European-Ashkenazi influenced music) vice-like grip on Israeli culture at the time.

Courtesy of Shoval Films.

Ariana is available for online streaming on the Israel Film Archive website. Click to watch.

A sell-out, clap-out-loud vote of confidence: The opening night of the film "Fishke Goes to War" in Tel Aviv

“What do I care about the reviews when the audience have already said their piece?” Those were the words of producer Michael Shvili which, indeed, hold true for the whole of George Obadiah’s body-of-work, whose name does not even get a mention anywhere in this Geva Reel news story about the premiere of his film, Fishke Goes to War. Critics seemed to be competing amongst themselves for who would get to deliver the most scathing review: a July 1971 review that appeared in (long-defunct) daily paper, Davar, described the film as so unspeakably awful that it defies analysis. “Were I to attempt an ‘analysis’ of Fishke,” wrote critic Ze’ev Har-Nof, “in search of any traces of ideas and logical coherence, some sort of drama, or even the remotest semblance of artistic expression – the endeavour would only go towards exposing the author for the idiot that he is.”

It appeared that the critic was especially slighted by the glaring dissonance between the film’s quality and its immense popularity which was unmistakable in the news story, showing footage of sold-out cinemas. His words boast a mix of condescension, contempt, and racism: “Unlike the readers of Proust and Joyce, or the readers of best sellers, there is the third tier that is categorically unread and what few within it who do read, will no doubt be content with penny dreadful thrillers and sex-laced narratives. These are the same people who will leave a cinema where Antonioni and Resnais films are shown, mid-screening, smashing bottles, swearing, and often kicking the odd chair. And in fact, so they ought to. After all, they are not to blame for having been denied the necessary education and breeding. When they are watching the film, all they want is to understand it and be entertained and seeing as how the former eludes them – the latter ultimately evades them.
I watched them as they feasted themselves on Fishke Goes to War, laughing with reckless abandon, at last revelling in some form of release, and getting their full money’s worth for their ticket. […] No one has banned making films for a demographic this wide, that is so clearly vying for his [Obadiah’s] offerings. […] indeed, no one makes this kind of films in the west anymore. They are only ever made in Asian countries and the Mediterranean. The worst Italian or French films made 40 years seem far superior to this. […] Indeed, the lack of taste on display here is quite staggering, as is the nonexistence of any cinematic feel, and the absence of even a scintilla of intelligence; even the dialogue and lip-movement are completely and utterly out of sync; a thing which nowadays, what with all the latest technological advances, seems most peculiar.”

Indeed, there was quite the chasm between the film critics’ palette and that of the general filmgoing public: a total of 800,000 people saw Nurit in cinemas; Ariana drew 300,000 viewers, whereas Fishke Goes to War was watched by an audience of 450,000.

Courtesy of United Studios of Israel; From Geva Reel no. 499, 1971.

Fishke Goes to War  is available for online streaming on the Israel Film Archive website. Click to watch.

Fishke Goes to War

In more ways than one, Fishke Goes to War is a strange bird within George Obadiah’s body of work. The film is set in a military base: ultraorthodox Jews, the IDF, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict all comprise the storyline whose spirit is unabashedly burlesque and slapstick-y. Except the scene features more than just the odd slapstick gag where the three protagonists mock the members of the Jordanian cell who had captured them – but also an embracing of the Israeli melting pot in a way that opts to rather highlight the different identities of the individuals that make up the collective. Each protagonist lives up to the stereotype that follows them around: Yemeni Zacharia, an Arab-Jew, is the interpreter who still speaks his parents’ native tongue; Fishke is the joker and your run of the mill, wet and wimpy Ashkenazi white boy; then there is Shmil, the Western ‘import’ from the new world, an American Jew by name and certainly by nature. The fight scene, a mix of Kung fu, karate, and Krav Maga, adds an additional layer of slapstick to the use of one’s body. It is the immaculate Zionist form, greater than the sum of its parts which secures a symbolic triumph here, of the few against the many.

Courtesy of Shoval Films.

Fishke Goes to War  is available for online streaming on the Israel Film Archive website. Click to watch.

Nurit – “I’m crazy, I’m crazy, for you, for you, for you, for you”

Music is an inextricable part of George Obadiah’s film language. The opening sequence of his film, Nurit, the commercial height of his career (despite pearl-clutching critics’ exclamations that Nurit is a “massive red flag for Israeli film,” as David Perlov put it), features a seemingly bog-standard exposition: we get to know who the two young lovers are who, just like in musicals, express their romance through song. The editing too is in sync with the genre: double cross-focus, and in perfect harmony with total equality in the division of verses and choruses. That said, the lyrics bespeak a yearning that much more unruly and tumultuous than what is usually expected this early into a film and indeed, this gathering tempest hints at just how far they are about to fall. A storm, madness, insanity, a bruised, beating, throbbing heart – a fire. A torrent of surging, overflowing sentiment preparing us for the emotional inferno about to set the plot alight.

Of the many songs that feature in Obadiah’s films, the song Near and Far (‘karov ve-rachok’ – also the title of a greatest hits album featuring a selection of songs from Obadiah’s films) is perhaps the best, most accurate representation of the nature of his works. Written by Dudu Barak and Shaike Paikov and performed by Sassi Keshet and Nira Gal, with Yona Elian who plays the titular character on lip synching duties.

Courtesy of United King Films.

Nurit – To the edge

Like all couples in classical tragedies, Moshe and Shoshana too must face a barrage of obstacles and a tidal wave of woes before they are able to consummate their love in full. Rage, jealousy, lies, a tyrant father, a wicked stepmother, property and inheritance, a miscarriage and grief to the point of suicide – it is all on the menu and milked for everything it’s got so that the melodrama can do what it does best: draw you all in.

In her 1993 book, Motion Fiction: Literature and Cinema, Nurith Gerz points out that the plot of the melodrama is driven by abrupt transitions (that are not always explained) between polar states of being: love and betrayal, life and death, triumph and ruin. All of that is present and accounted for here, alongside emotional extremes articulated in the director’s artistic arsenal: using a handheld camera to portray Shoshana’s turmoil as she runs towards doom, and a series of flashes focused on what is going through her mind – a fleeting flashback of a happy moment with Moshe and a flashforward, i.e. a thought imagining the future, with the image of a baby; the unborn one which she is most likely carrying. There is also quite the psychedelic aspect to this sequence: jump-cutting between two musical tones and a frame that goes out of focus, spinning itself into a spiral and hovering between heaven and earth, like the heroine. The scene ends with yet another common generic trope: a case of mistaken identity that will result in grave complications.

Courtesy of United King Films.

Midnight Entertainer – Enta Omry

Like the Oriental and Greek orchestras in Ariana, opting for ‘Enta Omry’, legendary singer Umm Kulthum’s magnum opus might seem like the most obvious choice for the fictional world of Midnight Dancer; that said, it is also quite the transgressive if not the political statement beyond its realms – however inadvertently, and certainly not in an overt manner.

Music assumes a multitude of roles in George Obadiah’s films: an interlude from the storyline (see Ariana, Street 60), the pinnacle of one’s career goals (see Sarit, Day of Judgement, Nurit 2), and not once as the key to plot resolution (See Nurit, West Side Girl). Then there is the music in Midnight Entertainer which plays yet another pivotal role: seduction. In this scene, Rosa practically bewitches the audience with her charisma whilst at the same time, jumpstarting her career. Meanwhile, she is also starting to develop romantic feelings for singing sensation, Yoram Harel, played by the late Svika Pick).

The stage star is a recurring theme in Obadiah’s films. And indeed, several of Israeli 1970s pop’s highest profile names ended up cast in those roles including Pick here, Avi Toledano, Yigal Bashan, Nissim Sarousy, the late Ofra Haza, and in Sarit also a young Yardena Arazi, playing the very small and rather odd part of a maid who also happens to be a belly dancer. For all of the above, appearing in Obadiah’s films marked their big screen debuts and for many, their swansong too.

Courtesy of United King Films.

Midnight Entertainer – Pulling up to ‘Bourekas’ junction

Midnight Entertainer, George Obadiah’s only film that comes close to meeting the definition of a ‘Bourekas’ film is a comedy, at the heart of which are the ethnic tensions between Ashkenazis and Mizrahis, and a tale of a successful merger culminating in three weddings. The film’s fast-paced, quippy dialogue is filled with jabs aimed at rich, patronising Ashkenazis as opposed to the easily relatable “common” protagonists, especially Rosa Sardana (played by Tiki Dayan) who undergoes a Pygmalion-esque transformation into Varda Sharon. That said, the statement made here is twofold, as the Mizrahi characters are simultaneously portrayed not only as that much savvier and knowledgeable but also as not doing nearly enough (for themselves). After all, were they only to seize the opportunity then “perhaps we wouldn’t have stayed in the Tikvah neighbourhood to this day.” The film’s stance is indeed vague, perhaps in an attempt to maintain some form of neutrality and avoid taking sides, and in doing so become more appealing to an even wider audience – the size of which had steadily been shrinking in turnout to Obadiah’s later films.

Courtesy of United King Films.

West Side Girl

In his book, A Shtetl in Disguise (2012) Rami Kimchi identified a “rhetoric of decadence and neglect” in Bourekas genre films, evident amongst other things in sloppy frame compositions and editing lacking any finesse and refinement, on par with the setting that is meant to be a working-class Mizrahi slum. George Obadiah is not a Bourekas film director (although his name does tend to come up at times in that context), and yet Kimchi’s description does strike a chord when looking at various set designs in his films – like this scene, for instance, taken from West Side Girl. That said, and contrary to the purpose which Kimchi argues it is there to serve, the derelict crumbling building, and the flat that is missing several doors and is in dire need of a lick of paint and some TLC do not represent some sort of classist counterpoint to a wealthy home – they are simply part of the location’s (Old City Jaffa, in this case) and the protagonists’ characterisation – who may be destitute but are nonetheless happy with their lot, and are not ashamed to welcome guests into their humble abode. For protagonists Avi, Choo-choo, and Sussita this is “the most beautiful place on earth,” because that is where the heart is.

Courtesy of Shoval Films.

West Side Girl  is available for online streaming on the Israel Film Archive website. Click to watch.

Desperate Square – An ode to heritage

This is the exact moment, just outside the local taberna (traditional pub) when brothers Nissim and George Mandabon decide to revive the old cinema their father used to run that’s been standing there, abandoned for years, with a screening of the Bollywood classic, Sangam – a decision that will resurrect the neighbourhood, not to mention some long buried demons. In 2001, poet and scholar Sami Shalom Chetrit had this to say about Benny Toraty’s profoundly personal work: “Toraty’s film you have to make sense of with both your head and your heart. ‘People cry watching the film,’ Toraty explains, ‘not just because they’re moved by the story but because they know that they’re watching themselves. It’s a piece of themselves that has died and will never return.’ And indeed, the film’s strength lies in its extraordinary ability to be so local and intimate, tapping into the most precise memories of every Mizrahi man and woman who grew up in this neighbourhood, all the while remaining so broadly universal in the tradition of the finest Italian neorealist cinema.”

Residents of the neighbourhood, an exterritorial urban enclave, isolated in its vistas and traditions from the modern metropolis, long for Bollywood  films and are riddled with nostalgia for a different time and different cultures. This melancholic longing for a bygone film era is also present in Obadiah’s works who was influenced by the melodramas he had directed back in Iran, and whose own heritage is deeply interwoven with Arab film. In Desperado Square, they may want to rescreen a particular film, Sangam in this case, but the act at the same time can also be construed as an implied nod to Israeli films “with an accent,” the ones that are not “from around here,” that speak a Levantine language – competing, contrarian, and minor, but also and perhaps even more importantly, not a national language but rather a universal one.

Courtesy of Lama Films.

Desperate Square is available for online streaming on the Israel Film Archive website. Click to watch.

Merchant of Feelings - Part I

As a student at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Film and Television Studies, documentary filmmaker Ran Tal gave viewers a glimpse of George Obadiah’s innermost chambers – in his house and his heart; a near groundbreaking move in terms of academia’s and the industry’s treatment of the filmmaker who had sold so many tickets yet was forever denied the establishment’s acknowledgment and acceptance. Time and again throughout the film, Obadiah revisits his origins – Baghdad and Persia – and his love of films that weren’t just ‘pictures’ but “hard-hitting” pieces with a powerful, moving story. In a scene from Merchant of Feelings we discover that Obadiah’s room was home to a diligent, self-sufficient introvert of a man who had taught himself how to edit – anything to finally get his debut film, The Bereft (1950), which he had so much faith in finally released, just as you would expect of a merchant of dreams and feelings as successful as he was.

Courtesy of Ran Tal.

Merchant of Feelings is available for online streaming on the Israel Film Archive website. Click to watch.

Merchant of Feelings - Part II

The final act in this George Obadiah documentary feels a lot like a farewell to life, although at the time Obadiah had already been discharged from hospital and would only pass away two years later, in his early eighties. Although in a way, and by his own admission, Obadiah was already “gone” at the start of the 1980s when he stopped making films. After losing his Midas’s touch and his ability to draw in the big crowds to his later films, he was all but erased from public consciousness. Like one of his fictional characters, Obadiah makes no effort to mask his feelings and all the pain he endured at the hands of those who had forgotten him.

Courtesy of Ran Tal.

Merchant of Feelings is available for online streaming on the Israel Film Archive website. Click to watch.

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