Sallah Shabati

111 Minutes, 1964
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Directed by: Ephraim Kishon
Cast: Chaim Topol, Geula Nuni, Gila Almagor, Arik Einstein, Esther Greenberg, Shraga Friedman, Zaharira Harifai, Shaike Levi, Shmuel Rodensky, Mordecai (Popik) Arnon, Yaakov (Yankale) Ben Sira, Gideon Zinger, Mike Burstein
Production:Menahem Golan
Production Company:Noah Films
Photographer: Floyd Crosby, Nissim (Nicho) Leon
Original Music: Yohanan Zarai
Language: Hebrew
Subtitles: English, Hebrew

Ephraim Kishon’s classic blockbuster that drew over a million people to cinemas is the first-ever Israeli film to have earned an Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category, and to have won two Golden Globes – for Best Foreign Film and Most Promising Newcomer; the latter of which went to Topol. Sallah marks Kishon’s directorial debut, in addition to also being Menahem Golan’s first-ever ‘producer’ credit. US cinematographer Floyd Crosby who had shot Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 Western classic, High Noon, and won the Oscar for his work on F.W. Murnau’s 1931 film, Tabu: A Story of the South Seas, stepped in as director of photography.
The character of Sallah Shabati was born in a skit Kishon originally wrote for the IDF’s Nachal Troupe (‘lehakat hanachal’), inspired by his experiences as a new immigrant in a temporary migrant camp in Haifa. His film, which he based on the skit, is a biting satire that takes no prisoners, including the smug Ashkenazi establishment and the new immigrants from Muslim countries. Sallah, the film’s main protagonist moves his large family to Israel and is sent to live in a temporary migrant camp. There, he must learn to navigate the Eurocentric, socialist Labour-led establishment and come up with ways of working around it in order to improve his and his family’s lives.
Sallah changed popular Israeli film forever, giving rise to the genre that would later be dubbed ‘Bourekas films’ – i.e., working class comedies or melodramas based on the melting pot ideology, and the clash of ethnicities in Israel. The film is also remembered for its soundtrack that featured the songs Mashiach Hazaken (‘old Messiah’) and Li VeLach (‘for me and you’), amongst others. In 1988, the musical Sallah Shabati premiered at Israel’s Habima National Theatre. It was based on Kishon’s film and went on to become a massive success in its own right, producing the now classic hit, Ach Ya Rab (‘oh, dear god’).

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