"Haya Harareet earns a Special Mention at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival for her role in "Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer

Thorold Dickinson
  • Rate

The 8th Cannes Film Festival that took place at the French Riviera in late April 1955 and into early May, will be remembered for two major reasons. For one, that year’s festival marked the first time that a Palme d’Or was awarded in the Best Feature Film category (the inaugural winner was Delbert Mann’s Marty, starring Ernest Borgnine). The second reason meanwhile, highlights the first time in history that an Israeli film, Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, was featured in the world’s most highly regarded film festival. The Hebrew film industry’s first ever major, high-calibre, fully-fledged offering, produced under the harshest of conditions, was up against the works of ‘big gun,’ esteemed directors such as Elia Kazan, Edward Dmytryk, Otto Preminger, Vittorio De Sica, and Carol Reed.
Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, directed by English filmmaker, Thorold Dickinson and based on a story by Zvi Kolitz is set in the days of (pre-Israel) British Mandatory Palestine and the Israeli War of Independence. The film opens in 1948 on the strategically-located Hill 24 which overlooks the main road into Jerusalem. A group of UN observers arrive at the hill in order to determine whose sovereignty it falls under and find the bodies of four dead fighters: three men and one woman – a nurse by the name of Esther Hadassi who is found clutching a folded up Israeli flag. The observers rule that the hill is Israeli territory. The plot of the film sets out to uncover just how this brave soldier-nurse and her comrades ended up on the hill where they perished. One of the deceased fighters is James Finnigan (played by Edward Mulhare) – an Irishman who had served in the British Mandatory police and had been hunting down various resistance fighters when he fell in love with Haifan teacher, Miriam Mizrahi (Haya Harareet). Because of his love for her, Finnigan decides to switch sides and align with the Israeli forces.
In Cannes, Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer was not about to make do with the tired old “it’s an honour just to be nominated” platitude. The jury, chaired by French director-playwright Marcel Pagnol, was highly impressed with Harareet’s performance in the film and decided to award her a Special Mention. Israeli daily paper, Yedioth Aharonot’s front page from 12 May 1955, describes how “several of the jury panel’s decisions were met with vociferous protests. Haya Harareet’s Special Mention, on the other hand, was welcomed with overall zeal.”
One particular scene where Harareet positively shines is set at the British Police’s Haifa headquarters. Miriam is questioned about her ties to a renegade resistance fighter whom the British are keen on capturing, yet through it all she stands proud, stoic, and resilient in the face of her interrogators; one of whom happens to be the Irish officer who, with time, will become her lover, and makes no secret of her sentiments on British presence in the land (“This is not your country.”)
In many ways, it was this film and its impact at Cannes that launched Harareet’s international acting career. Director William Wyler first met her at that year’s festival. So taken was he with her performance that several years later, he decided to cast her in the female lead in his opus, Ben-Hur that would take home 11 Academy Awards. Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer meanwhile, would go on to earn a satirical, tongue-in-cheek tribute – by name and by plot – in Assi Dayan’s 1976 comedy, Halfon Hill Doesn’t Answer, starring the much loved comedy trio, Hagashah HaHiver (‘the pale tracker’).

Subscribe to our mailing list and stay up to date
הירשמו לרשימת התפוצה שלנו והישארו מעודכנים

This will close in 0 seconds