Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Classic Israeli Cinema: Sallah Shabati

Sallah Shabati
Directed by Ephraim Kirshon
Released March 10, 1965

I had the pleasure last night of introducing this film at a festive Yom Haatzamaut (Israeli Independence Day) event at the East 55th Street Conservative Synagogue in New York City. This film, which takes place when the State of Israel was just being founded, is an old-fashioned, humorous chronicle of one man and his enormous family as they struggle to adapt to their new lives, transplanted from Yemen and brought to the land of milk and honey. Topol, the future star of “Fiddler in the Roof,” dominates the movie in his showy role as the patriarch who refuses to accept his new living circumstances and also refuses to do any work to earn money for an actual home. The film is entertaining and deeply committed to its zaniness, and certainly nothing like any Israeli film that’s being produced today. Yet it makes perfect sense when looked at alongside “Dr. Strangelove” and “Mary Poppins,” two films produced at the same time, and it’s also worth celebrating this film as the first-ever Israeli Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film. Enjoy the energetic, Topol-centric scene below.

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