The Lowest Place in Tel Aviv

Edited by Amir Kaminer
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Movie Clips


In the early 1990s, long before colloquialisms such as ‘the State of Tel Aviv’, ‘Sheinkinite’ [a proto-hipster living on the then-mega trendy Sheinkin St. – EE], and ‘the Bubble’ took root in the Israeli vernacular and have since fully integrated into the nation’s vocabulary, local film – more often than not – tended to focus on the country’s cultural capital. Whereas in the eighties, Israeli filmmakers were both politically and socially vocal in their filmmaking choices (e.g. Avanti Popolo and Beyond the Walls), going for statement pieces at the heart of which was the Israeli-Arab conflict and the occupation, their early ‘90s successors decidedly opted for the more escapist route. The films that they made actively tried to avoid the violent, bloodied reality of the first Palestinian intifada and instead, focus on a happy-go-lucky, stylised, fun-loving version of Tel Aviv which, at times, can also turn ugly and dangerous.

The majority of the films that were part of this wave portrayed a nocturnal, expressionist, decadent Tel Aviv – teeming with colourful, camp, individualistic and extroverted characters who are trying to find and realise themselves whilst in a never-pursuit of love, thrills, and all kinds of pleasures. Characters so far removed from the mythical, heroic sabra [archetypical native Israeli] who was always ready to go into battle and even give their life – a character that, hitherto, had been a starring fixture on Israeli screens. Films that were now coming out were no longer shying away from portraying other, more fluid sexualities, whilst the LGBTQ community began to enjoy far greater representation than ever before. In a nutshell, it was out with He Walked Through the Fields and in with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.

Film critic Meir Schnitzer, who was neither a fan nor follower of the vast majority of these Tel Aviv-centric films dubbed them, “the escape into make-believe worlds.” In his book, Israeli Cinema, Schnitzer slammed the aesthetic choices that supposedly traded in the social message for eye-catching visual stimuli. “Rock is king and the videoclip technique, his prophet,” he mused. “In a pseudo-cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, the films of the early 1990s ousted daytime from its prime spot, placing nighttime instead in narrative pole position, with its stylised lighting and eccentric cast of protagonists. A bona fide hellish urbanity.”

Notably, in those years the local newspaper and magazine scene was positively booming; a trend which those films certainly embodied. A number of the faces who, back then, were full time regulars in all the papers and gossip columns got to step into the limelight in films of that decade, including yours truly. A local Tel Aviv icon at the time with my own column in local weekly magazine, Tel Aviv, I was known as a provocative, colourful character who was synonymous with Sheinkin St. at the height of its hype, and the LGBT community’s bright, jolly, and wild nightlife scene. As such, male and female directors alike were only too happy to cast me in their films where I played anything from a Detective Chief Inspector to myself.

For this collection, I have chosen a dozen sequences from seven films that stood out, for better and for worse in this wave, and which epitomise the revolutionary spirit that sent shockwaves through Hebrew film in that decade.

Movie clips

Shuru – A Perspective Performance Piece

Towards the end of 1990, not long before the First Gulf War broke out, a young filmmaker by the name of Savi Gabizon released his directorial feature debut – a stylised, colourful, and highly entertaining comedy titled Shuru – Little Kinks in the Big City. With its fresh and novel postmodern sensibilities, Gabizon’s Shuru became the harbinger of this burgeoning Tel Avivian film wave. “This is an alienated, dry, cold, calculated, over-adorned film – a strange bird indeed in the landscape of traditional Israeli film,” mused legendary Israeli film critic and lecturer, Nachman Ingber, in his review that appeared in local weekly magazine, Tel Aviv. “The film is set in a nocturnal, urban wasteland posing as Tel Aviv, but if that is Tel Aviv then I’m a little teapot. It is an Alan Rudolphean-Martin Scorsesian nocturnal city of wonders. A metropolis where density and proximity are both beyond the pale. The camera only ever shows its protagonists from up close or at a medium distance, as though there were nowhere for it to go in all this hyper-density.
In this city, every literary event – however inconsequential – is not to be missed, and everyone is a singer; anyone without a stammer is a spiritual guru, every TV appearance automatically increases the value of one’s [social] clout, and every man lives inside their own all-consuming loneliness; a colourful bubble without which life simply is not worth living. Everyone is dense and limited in this film, yet at the same time they also wish to soar and ascend – whether the ultimate price of flying high be a horrifying crash. Perhaps that is why everyone in this film either has a limp or is in a wheelchair.”

Critics, for the most part, showered the film with praise; viewers swarmed the cinemas by the droves, and it wasn’t long before Shuru became a certified cult classic. At that year’s Ophir Awards it took home six trophies, including a win in the Best Film category.

Shuru was mocking the popularity of cults and the then-proliferation of ‘consciousness groups,’ not to mention Tel Avivians’ never-ending quest to find themselves (in those days, cults such as the Emin Society and EST were especially en vogue.) The film went about doing so through an assortment of characters, led by one Asher Yeshurun (played by Moshe Ivgy). A charismatic, smarmy thrill seeker, Yeshurun is a failed novelist who starts a cult of sorts around him, drawing a group of young lost souls who are stumbling through life in search of meaning into his orbit.

Yet another fabulous character is Asher’s wife – pretentious and sensitive poet, Shimrit Yeshurun (Keren Mor), who “writes from a place of despondence. Just like the state of a matchstick.” In a truly unforgettable scene, Shimrit recites her poem, A Perspective Performance Piece, before Asher and his tight-lipped, wheelchair-bound father (Avraham Pelta), at the end of which she intentionally stomps on her glasses, “so as to expose the eyes of otherness. I shall smash the glass panels of my eyes, shatter this cold, warping negotiation of reality.” The husband has no choice but to compliment her work.

Incidentally, when Shuru was unleashed unto the world, in an interview with [long defunct daily paper] Hadashot’s Hagai Levi, Gabizon flat out rejected all of his critics’ accusations, insisting: “I cannot and will not accept that this is a so-called ‘Tel Avivian’ film. What the hell is Tel Avivian about any of it? Nowhere [in the film] is there any affinity whatsoever for the place. In fact, all this nocturnal restlessness, I personally didn’t experience in Tel Aviv but in [northern city] Kiryat Yam.”

Shuru: ‘Humiliate me’

Savi Gabizon and his film, Shuru, contributed several priceless scenes and bits of dialogue to the Israeli film hall of fame. One such scene finds charlatan author, Asher Yeshurun (Moshe Ivgy), getting a cab. When the cab arrives at the Tel Aviv promenade, Asher informs Jacky (Albert Iluz [also Illouz]), his taxi driver who is also celebrating his birthday, that he hasn’t got the money to cover the fare.

When the cabbie then questions why he would get in the taxi, knowing full well that he couldn’t cover the fare, Asher replies: “because my mental health’s in the shitter; I’m in a bad place.” Instead, he proposes an alternative: “Look, I know that you don’t care as much about these six shekels as you do about feeling like you’ve been taken for a ride, right? So d’you know what, here’s an idea: humiliate me. How about you make me sing?”. Then, on the beach the two men go on to discuss the type of humiliation Asher will be subjected to. Eventually, he ends up massacring The Beatles’ classic, Yesterday – which marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship between these two lonely souls, both of whom feel as though they have a shared destiny.

For viewers, the scene may well be reminiscent of the work of playwright, Hanoch Levin. And indeed, director Shemi Zarhin, back when he was still a film critic argued that “at the forefront of Gabizon’s work are human warmth and the longing for a connection – both of which he tackles with a Hanoch Levinian arsenal of tools – all the while never letting go of the reconciliatory, forgiving perspective. That is his starting point.”

When Shuroo came out, Gabizon himself conceded that Hanoch Levin was indeed an influence on his work. “Obviously, anyone who’ll have read the script will recognise that I had been reading Levin. Anyway, my treatment of the characters isn’t just satirical and ball busting. I’m pretty forgiving of their weaknesses and desires and occasionally, even relate to what’s happening to them.”

Incidentally, before making Shuru, Gabizon had a range of random, temp jobs. Among other things, he was a taxi company phone and radio operator – an experience that most likely provided the inspiration for the cab scene. “It was totally surreal, being sat in that chair, and the Yemeni guy next to me at the [taxi] hub hands me the phone with a message that the Department of Education have just given me $150,000 for the film,” Gabizon recalled.

Tel Aviv Stories: a stylist and other Tel Avivian icons at a photoshoot

In April 1992, Ayelet Menahemi and Nirit Yaron’s Tel Aviv Stories came out in cinemas. The film by Menahemi and Yaron, both of whom are graduates of the Beit Zvi School of the Performing Arts’ film department, was a breakout hit at the box office and went on to win a total of four Ophir Awards. The plot is comprised of three parts, at the heart of each are young women facing “a moment of crisis in the big city” (according to, who “find themselves caught in a range of outlandish scenarios” (taken from the film’s Wikipedia entry.) Raanan Shaked wrote at the time in local paper, Tel Aviv, how this was “an unplanned attempt at achieving a reinvented definition of the same old tired and worn urbanity. Yaron and Menachemi have crafted some highly convincing frames, rich with detail and ever-so photogenic.”

Looking back, Yaron says that “Tel Aviv Stories was a very secular film by nineties standards, which is why it got so much love. It also got all this love because it looked at the fringes’ fringes and the way that city life runs and operates, without some major agenda. There’s neither army nor occupation but instead, a sense of beauty, innocence, [and] worshipping of all that is strange and other. A world of the young where nothing is odd and there isn’t anything that’s not worth experimenting in.”

Part one, Sharona Love, was directed by Menahemi and follows a day in the life of Sharona (Yaël Abecassis, in her breakout role); a highly successful stylist who is running about town, carrying bags galore in her hands and a hickey on her neck, whilst having to juggle and manoeuvre between four men at the same time, as the city – currently in the throes of a waste and sanitary workers’ strike – is toppling under heaping mounds of rubbish.

When I asked Menahemi to choose her favourite scene that is most representative of Tel Aviv at the time, she replied: “Look, asking me what part of the film, in my view, represents Tel Aviv back in those days doesn’t really make much sense because everything about it represents Tel Aviv. Having said that, one sequence I’m especially fond of is the fashion shoot Sharona arrives at, thanks to [art director] Eva Gronowitz’s absolutely insane artwork that captures all the OTTness of Tel Aviv’s fashion and style scene, back when it was trying so hard to be anything but Tel Aviv. Also, the scene itself is practically a catwalk of people who, themselves, are icons – hairstylist Shuki Zikri, model Ronit Yudkevitz, designer and multidisciplinary artist Itzik Nini, actors Lillian Barto, Idit Teperson – and of course Yaël Abecassis.)

Tel Aviv Stories: a journalist in crisis interviews a taxidermy-loving artist

In line with what was the golden age of local magazines, the main protagonist of Tel Aviv Stories’ part two, directed by Nirit Yaron, is Tzofit (Ruth Goldberg) – a helpless, neurotic, and perpetually frazzled poet who makes her living writing for a local Tel Aviv paper. Her demanding, imposing boss is named Schnitzer – a clear tongue-in-cheek nod at the legendary critic and editor of the same name. Tzofit, whose husband left her for her best friend, wakes up in her tip of a home after yet another botched suicide attempt and heads out to fulfil her work commitments to the paper. When she spots a kitten stuck in the sewers, she embarks on a rescue operation – whilst at the same time trying to meet her professional deadliness, and grapple with her personal woes.

One of the most unforgettable scenes in this part is Tzofit’s visit to the art gallery where she is meant to interview an artist (Anat Zahor) who specialises in working with giant taxidermied animals. After dispensing some romantic life lessons, the artist announces to Tzofit: “what’s most important to me is that people realise that I do love animals. All these slaughtered bunnies, the taxidermied crows – I’m drawn to it all from a place of pain.”

“This scene demonstrates the relationship that there was back then between the press and the artworld – the local papers treated art as newsworthy – and [portrayed] both artists’ and the media’s pretentiousness as one,” says Nirit Yaron. “The scene also captures the absurdity that exists in the art scene, and this thing that looks so very Tel Avivian; the way that the artists takes themselves and their art so seriously. Whilst the reporter is calling the fire brigade to come and rescue the kitten, the artist is still blowing smoke up her own arse, speaking into the Dictaphone. Incidentally, today – for budget reasons – there is no way any director, male or female, could get away with using these ginormous taxidermied lions and tigers. Even back then when we were shooting, it was expensive as hell. These days, it’s also not terribly PC either, shooting this kind of taxidermy.”

Tel Aviv Stories: in pursuit of a divorce at the Shalom Tower

The third and final part of Tel Aviv Stories: Divorce was co-directed by Nirit Yaron and Ayelet Menahemi. Divorce follows Tikvah (Anat Waxman) – a police officer in charge of security at Tel Aviv’s iconic Shalom Tower. Five years earlier, her husband Menashe (Shlomo Tarshish) fled to Germany, leaving her with no legal recourse to obtain a [Jewish] divorce (a state known as ‘agunah’.) One day, Tikvah suddenly spots her MIA partner in the tower. She pulls out her gun and starts chasing Menashe all over the place (including the tower’s waxwork museum). Hellbent on forcing him to grant her this long overdue divorce, she even goes as far as firing her weapon and taking hostages. The chase reaches its climax on the roof of the tower where Tikvah finally realises she doesn’t need the rabbinical establishment’s seal of approval to finally be free.

“What are you going to do, eh? At the end of the day I’m a romantic, which is why I especially love this scene,” Menahemi says today. “It’s against the city backdrop that Tikvah is able to gain enough perspective, take and accept the love that she is given, and find her freedom by giving it up, of all things, after being a ‘prisoner’ for years.”

Yaron agrees with her co-director. “Divorce tells you that if the soul is free, then Tikvah doesn’t really need the actual divorce and the religious establishment for that validation that she is, in fact, someone who is free of her past and the man she was with. Tikvah realised that true freedom lies within, and that it is so much more than a hollowed catch phrase but, in fact, an inner epiphany that comes to you after you’ve been through something extreme. I think all three parts of our film are about letting go – Sharona lets go of all the negative relationships she’s had with men; Tzofit lets go of childhood, her husband, and this codependent streak she has in her, whereas Tikvah lets go of the need to have this farewell ritual. The three of them all come to the conclusion that the power to change the course of their own fate lies in their hands, and they go out there and do just that.”

An Evening without Na’ama: A local paper summit in the pub loos

An Evening without Na’ama, director and lecturer Moshe (Gilles) Zimerman’s film, came out in the summer of 1992 to mixed reviews. Only a handful of people watched it in cinemas in real time. In terms of inspiration, the plot of the film borrowed heavily from its creator’s various adventures in the nightlife and party scene. In those days, Zimerman (whose fictional alter ego is played by producer Michael Sharfstein), used to be quite the prolific pub and party hopper, not to mention womaniser – which is why it’s hardly a surprise that a good portion of the film is set in the pub. A variety of film and media figures arrive at the venue to celebrate and/or cover Na’ama’s birthday; however, the birthday girl herself is nowhere to be found.

“I think that this pub trend that you see in the film represents a very Israeli yearning to lead this kind of hedonistic lifestyle, with an element of instant gratification to it,” Zimerman said in an interview to local paper, Ha’ir (the city), “whilst at the same time legitimising permissiveness and a host of other things that were previously taboo.”

Speaking of the formerly taboo, one of the storyline highlights of An Evening without Na’ama is undoubtedly Schechter. Columnist, critic, and king the nightlife scene, Schechter is a camp and effeminate gay man who falls hopelessly in love with film student, Yaniv (Eran Ivanir). Yaniv flirts with him and toys with his emotions, but eventually it becomes clear that he likes girls. This storyline recreates a certain romantic episode from yours truly’s own biography, who used to hang out and party with Zimerman often.

And whilst I may have been the inspiration for Schechter’s character, he was ultimately played by Noam Hameiri. As for me, I do have a cameo in the film, playing myself, where I get to sit at the press table with [director] Dorit Hakim and [writer and actor] Doron Tsabari. In the scene I have chosen for this collection, Kaminer and Schechter run into each other in the pub toilets and get into a bit of a heated tête-à-tête, taking swipes at each other’s writing whilst also addressing the question of whether the pub they’re in is still a trendy hotspot, or if it’s past its prime and that it was time to migrate to the much trendier pub, The Jar. Yes, it does all sound terribly convoluted and confusing, and some might say Goddard-esque; postmodernist and reflexive even.

Some critics took umbrage with the representation of LGBT people in the film. Uri Klein wrote in Haaretz that Schechter, as a character, is “a through and through homosexual, with all the stereotypical mannerisms, however he is also the film’s most sympathetic character.” Zimerman, at the time, had a rebuttal to all the critics who had argued that gay men were portrayed as overly cliched stereotypes in his film. “On the contrary,” he said, “I think the film actually gave gay people the chance to exist just like everyone else, like when they’re pursuing other people romantically – not in a special way – but well within the general framework [of things]. They live life like all other people.”

An Evening Without Na’ama: Away with the occupation

The majority of early nineties Tel Aviv-centric films steered clear of directly referencing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the First Intifada which was at its peak at the time. An Evening Without Na’ama, a large portion of which is set in a pub, was the exception to that rule in the sense that it tackled the geopolitical situation, head on. All thanks to Sarah (Sarah Gillon) a left-wing activist who is regularly seen at demonstrations holding up signs that read, “we shall not kill or be killed on behalf of the US,” etc.

When the people at her table piss her off, the holier-than-thou Sarah lashes out at a local newspaper journalist who, allegedly, is only interested in chasing after the next big news item. “You’ve turned into a proper blood thirsty huntress,” she taunts her before turning to the camera and launching into an scathing tirade about the situation in the Occupied Territories: “I know that the things I deal with aren’t terribly palatable. I know that I can be very compulsive, and annoying, and obsessive, like you all say, but it gets very exhausting going to all these Women in Black demonstrations every Friday and being spat at by passersby, or having to go over to the Territories almost every Saturday and show your face. It’s exhausting, and sometimes it can get disheartening and humiliating, but it needs doing, because the boy who was killed in the Territories today, he died for real. It may sound pathetic, but a few years ago when I had the choice of either sitting there, twiddling my thumbs, in the face of everything that was happening in the Territories or actually doing something about it, including some ridiculous over-the-top things, I chose the latter.”

Critic Uri Klein wasn’t terribly tickled with the portrayal of the political activist. He saw her as an “aggressive, wholly unlikable nag, just like all those other fanatical women who are always blahing on about politics and feminism.” With respect to Klein’s commentary and Sarah’s tablemates’ jeering, and despite the fact it’s been over three decades since An Evening Without Na’ama was made – her message, regrettably, is as pertinent as ever.

Life According to Agfa: Loneliness, errands, and procedures

Director and film star Assi Dayan was also no stranger to city nightlife, being the prominent staple of the Tel Aviv party scene that he was. Therefore, it was of little surprise that Dayan chose to set the plot of his film, Life According to Agfa, in a Tel Aviv pub. A little anecdote: the film was made after Dayan had completed a stint at rehab. In 1992, the film was a frontrunner for the Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival, and ended up taking home a Special Mention where it went on to clinch nine Ophir Awards, blowing away critics and viewers alike.

In an interview with daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Dayan was asked whether the pub, Barbie (one of several nicknames that patients at the local Abarbanel Mental Health Hospital have given it) is a metaphor for Israeli reality. This was his answer: “the pub, for me, is mainly a junction. A meeting place. A place where a population that has nowhere else to go comes together. A form of desertedness. A halfway house. You go to the pub to be together. Or as Gila Almagor says in the film: ‘you come here only after you’ve spent hours staring at the ceiling, and there are no corners here, so that people don’t end up sat on their own.’ The pub lets perfect strangers cross paths and run into each other.”

Gila Almagor, in one of her all-time greatest roles, plays ageing pub landlady Dalia, who has been having an affair with a married man (Ezra Kafri), all the while still having casual sex with a host of random men. And whilst Almagor previously said that was not trying to play a “real-life pub landlady, even though I’ve known my share,” in reality Dayan had, in fact, based her character on Zohara Avizedek who owned legendary pub, Siegel, on Dizengoff High St. which Dayan used to frequent. And whilst the men in the film are portrayed as (symbolically) impotent – the female characters, including Ricki, are nuanced and intriguing. “Women in this country are much more mature than the men,” Dayan argued. “Over here, men hit pause at some early stage of their development and end up stuck in this over-the-top warped [performance of] masculinity. Machismo is a integral part of our reality.”

Dayan once revealed that all the characters in the film, in fact, represent him. Especially Dalia who, “stands out with this whole fundamental loneliness thing, although this is a malady that everyone else in the film suffers from.” In one of the scenes, Dalia sums up this sense of loneliness. It happens in a conversation with photographer-barmaid Leora (Irit Frank). “We’re forever longing for something that’ll never happen,” Dalia tells her and adds that the three hours she spends each night with her married lover are “the only hours of my life. Everything else is life adjacent. It ain’t life. Errands and procedures, the lot of it. Go there, get that, open up shop, close up shop. Piles, and piles, and piles of shit.”

Life According to Agfa: The left’s anus

Life According to Agfa may be set “a year from today” with great apocalyptic overtones, but it is, in fact, very much a product of Israeli reality during this historic time that it was made – the days of the first Intifada. Dayan, mourning and lamenting the demise of the Israeli ‘sabra’ [the manual labouring, ideology driven, ultrapatriotic native Israeli – EE] portrays a violent, polarised, racist Israeli society, riddled with machismo. In one of the scenes that most epitomise this, Cherniak (Danny Litani), the pub’s inhouse singer-pianist is crooning a song he’d written for Samir (Akram Tillawi), the pub’s cook who is also a Palestinian activist who was recently injured in an Israeli miliary pursuit of fugitives. Just before he bursts into song, Cherniak sarcastically quips, “Good on the IDF for blowing Samir’s head off.” One of the punters, Nimmy (Sharon Alexender), a lieutenant colonel and commander of an elite unit who was also injured in the pursuit and has turned up at the pub with his loud and rowdy soldiers, expresses his disdain for the number. “Looks like we’ve ended up right in the left’s anus,” he announces.

As a pushback, Nimmy’s group – none of whom are too fond of Arabs to say the least – break into their own racist, explicit, and utterly repellent version of [Jewish WWII hero] poet Hannah Szenes’s A Walk to Caesarea. Later, the soldiers try to impose some order on the place, just as they do in the occupied, and now uprising territories. Dayan admitted that his film and in particular, the violent ending, is “a rebellion of sorts” – as is the look that it takes at “all that is happening or is en route to happening here and let’s face it, everywhere. A complete collapse and disintegration of all systems as a result of our having washed our hands of all that is true and authentic about us.”

Incidentally, in an article Dayan had published just before the release of Life According to Agfa, he insisted that the film was apolitical, summarising its plot as 12 hours in “the lives of around eight individuals who get lost in the fringes of leisure, via a pub, where urban decadence is celebrating the collapse of the ‘chosen ones’ [i.e. Jews by God – EE], the putting out of the ‘light for the gentiles,’ [Isaiah 49:6 – EE], the crushing of language’s limbs and body, the teeth gnashing of all things left-right, Ashkenazi-Sephardi, Christian-Jewish, Arab-Israeli. The collapse of culture into the planes of self-destruction.”

Amazing Grace: AIDS and decadence at Club Elizabeth

In his films, late director Amos Guttman used to portray nocturnal Tel Aviv as a stylised city – disconnected, dreamlike, expressionist, and even rotten and derelict. A place teeming with sex, secrets, and danger. For instance, there’s the scene at [former gay cruising hotspot] Independence Park in his film Drifting, the striptease shows at the dodgy club, and a surprise encounter at the densely fogged central bus station in Bar 51. In Amazing Grace (1992) too, Guttman’s final and most personal film which he was directing whilst living with full blown AIDS, he included a scene set in a dark, decadent, salacious nightclub.

We’re at the club when in walks Thomas (Sharon Alexander), the film’s protagonist – a gay man living in New York who has contracted a mysterious illness and has come to Israel for a family visit. Thomas hopes to score some drugs at the club that might ease some of his pain and distress. He gets his young new partner, Jonathan (Gal Heuberger), to join him on the night out. The scene was shot at Jaffa Port’s long gone Club Elizabeth that was adorned by sculptures of golden flying angels, and a statue of the late Queen Elizabeth II. In the scene, Guttman included a catalogue of characters who, at the time, were synonymous with Tel Aviv’s nightlife and club scene: model and actor Anita Faleli who was nicknamed “the arse of the nation” [a nod to Faleli’s 1980s lingerie modelling career – EE], indie female singer-songwriter Iggy Waxman (Vaxman), singer and cabaret artist known as ‘Hamuchtar’ (‘the mukhtar’ – aka Gilad Philip Ben-David), actor Danny Sperling, and even yours truly who, for the shoot, at Guttman’s behest, had to bleach what little there was left of his hair.

Guttman also cast poet and bohemian Fitcho Ben-Zur in the film, who is behind some of the most harrowing lines of verse about the pandemic that decimated the gay community and claimed countless victims. Ben-Zur, sat at the bar, says to the pathetic barman (Dov Navon) who dreams of Eurovision fame with the songs he’s written: “I’ve lost 11 friends the last few years. An entire ward, do you get that?”. The barman then corrects him. “Make that 12. Silvian’s also on his way out. I give him a month, tops. Urgh and quit dragging me into these conversations. All this stocktaking, that’s a bad trip, man.”

Soon thereafter, Guttman himself joined that ill-fated ward. He died in February 1993, aged 38, just months after Amazing Grace came out in cinemas. “I try and show different attitudes to death in Amazing Grace,” Guttman said. “I want to say that dying is awful. When it comes to death, we’re all a bunch of terrified children.”

Strangers in the Night: Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, and Alain Delon’s son

After he had wrapped production on Amazing Grace, director Amos Guttman started working on his next film, Strangers in the Night, based on a screenplay by Rasi Levinas. The plot follows a man and woman, both of whom were on a plane that had to make an emergency landing at Ben Gurion International Airport, who then go out on a nocturnal adventure around Tel Aviv. Guttman, who was living with full blown AIDS at the time, had to go into hospital just days before shooting began, leaving producer Doron Eran no other choice but to replace him with Serge Ankri.

The film opened nationwide in November 1993 and was promptly ripped to shreds by critics, before being pulled from cinemas everywhere after just one week. Less than a thousand people in total got to see it on the big screen. Daily newspaper Maariv’s then-inhouse critic, Irit Shamgar, gave the film a one-star review. In her review, she described Strangers in the Night’s Israel as a “terrifying downtown danger zone” where “would-be rapists, hideously horny soldiers and a host of other dreadful men, con artists, thieves, druggies, and what have you” roam free. Eran Hadas wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth that Tel Aviv has never looked more dangerous. “This unruly jungle, a smelly downtown slumville. A bone-chilling, nightmare-inducing nocturnal metropolis.”

In hindsight, Ankri regrets ever going on this adventure. “It’s a wretched film that no one’s watched,” he says. “Before I said yes to directing the film, a bunch of director friends of mine advised me to walk away. Eventually, I decided to direct it after all.” Anthony Delon, son of legendary French actor Alain Delon, played the lead. “I wasn’t the one who chose and cast him,” Ankri reveals. “I knew he’d inherited all his whims from his father, just not the talent. I tried to make up for this unfortunate choice by casting a young French actress – Charlotte Véry, who starred in Éric Rohmer’s A Tale of Winter. Mixing an action film star and a highbrow film actor was a bold choice, but ultimately a catastrophic one as there was zero chemistry between the two. Neither she nor he wanted to work together, which was painstakingly evident onscreen. And though this is a dreadful film, strangely enough every scene – as a standalone – is very well directed.”

Ankri is especially proud of the scene where the protagonists go clubbing and end up in this dark Tel Aviv club. A flamboyant gay man in a silver outfit (yours truly) tries to seduce Delon whilst his adventure companion is in the toilet, helping a young woman who’d taken some drugs. “Ya’akov Eisenman’s camera was fitted on a dolly track and followed everything that was going on at the club where a rock band were playing a gig, moving between members of the cast,” Ankri explains. “Thanks to the camerawork, and Tova Ascher’s brilliant editing, it ends up looking as though the club scene was taken from some European film as opposed to an early ‘90s Israeli movie.”

The Song of the Siren: A New Year’s Eve party at an ad agency

Despite the fact that his childhood and teenage years were spent in Jerusalem, today director Eytan Fox is probably one of the most quintessentially Tel Avivian filmmakers. From his feature debut, The Song of the Siren (1994), through groundbreaking TV drama Florentine, early noughties hit The Bubble, and all the way to Sublet (2020), Fox has been composing these odes to Tel Aviv for being the liberal, secular, LGBTQ-friendly, vocal, young, and liberated stronghold that it is. The Song of the Siren, the film that bookends this early ‘90s wave of Tel Aviv-centric films, is an adaptation of author and screenwriter Irit Linur’s novel of the same title. It follows the story of Talilah Katz, an acid-tongued 32-year-old ad executive who is torn between her love for Noah – a square and sensible food engineer from the arse end of suburbia, and her ex, Opher – a yuppy fellow adman. Meanwhile, the First Gulf War rages in the background. The year is 1991.

Back then, in real time, it seemed as though every Israeli actress was after Talilah’s part. And indeed, the hunt for her portrayer was almost reminiscent of the search for Gone with the Wind protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara. Fox eventually went with Dalit Kahan who, at the time, was known from a series of TV adverts she had done. Linur, who had been keen on a different actor for the role, was none too thrilled with this casting choice and in fact, the creative differences between author and director had, at one point, escalated into a vocal row and a massive falling out. The part of food engineer, Noah, went to Boaz Gur-Lavi, whereas elusive ex, Opher’s portrayer ended up being none other than one Yair Lapid – long before he ended up taking office as Israeli Prime Minister.

One of the scenes that fully capture the vibe of these stylised, well put together times when yuppy values reigned supreme and with them, so did the advertising world, is the New Year’s Eve party at the start of the film. Members of the Rosenbaum Marco Ad Agency are all ringing in the new year, welcoming 1991 not long before war breaks out. “I can’t be arsed with ad execs’ parties,” Talilah declares, and yet makes an appearance at the party – where she runs into her ex who is flirting with an attractive young woman.

That said, these hedonistic, disconnected ‘bubble dwellers’ aren’t ignoring the permeating political tensions and the impending war, and as everyone is counting down the final seconds of the year, a portrait of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein appears on the sign that reads ‘1991’, as flames come bursting out of his mouth.

The First Gulf War was a major test for this new Tel Avivianness. As the first Scud missiles started raining down on the city, many of its residents fled with their gasmasks to their parents’ homes in the provinces and other distant sanctuaries. Fox, meanwhile, chose to portray those days of war and sheltering in chemical and bio-proof safe rooms [that every Tel Avivian had to make in their home – EE] in a lighthearted, trauma-free manner. “There are some people who, if you give them a serious take on the war, would be scared shitless,” Fox said not long before shooting began. “But with us, the war turns into something nice. You think back to it with a smile on your face. If one must revisit that experience, then my film is by far the nicest way of going about it. It’s lovely that this most glorious love story is set against the backdrop of the war, of all things.”

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