The 34th Haifa International Film Festival will open on September 22 and run until October 1. As always, it will feature more than 150 movies from around the world, as well as the best of Israeli contemporary films.
There will be competitions for both Israeli and international films, along with special events featuring festival guests. Pnina Blayer, the artistic director of the festival, has gathered the absolute best of cinema from all over the world. The films will be shown at the Haifa Cinematheque and many other theaters around the city, and there will be a virtual reality exhibit and many outdoor events.
It’s rare that an Israeli movie opens the festival, but Avi Nesher’s latest, The Other Story, which recently had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, will be the opening-night film. It tells the story of Yonatan, a psychologist (Yuval Segal, from Fauda), who left Israel years ago and is estranged from his now-grown daughter (Joy Rieger, who won the Best Actress Award at the Tribeca Film Festival this year for Virgins).
He returns to Israel in response to a plea from his ex-wife (Maya Dagan), who tells him their daughter, who is now ultra-Orthodox, is about to marry her boyfriend, a musician (Nathan Goshen). Sasson Gabai, who is currently appearing in the Broadway production of The Band’s Visit, a role he originated in the movie version, plays Yonatan’s father, a psychologist himself, who is treating a couple involved in a pagan cult. The movie will be released in Israel in late October.
The closing-night movie will be First Man, the latest film by Damien Chazelle, who made La La Land and Whiplash. First Man stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to walk on the moon, and Claire Foy (The Crown) plays his wife.
One of the festival’s guests of honor, the acclaimed composer, Zbigniew Preisner, will conduct a concert of music composed for the films of Krzysztof Kieślowski, and a segment from his Requiem for My Friend. The concert will feature soprano Edyta Krzemień and Konrad Mastyło on piano, as well as the singers of the Israeli Opera Chorus, under the direction of Ethan Schmeisser. Clips from Kieślowski’s films will be shown at this event.
One of the Israeli films that will be shown in a special screening, Ran Slavin’s Call for Dreams, has an intriguing premise. Eko (Mami Shimazaki, who won the Best Actress Award for her performance in that film at ÉCU – The European Independent Film Festival in Paris last spring), a woman who lives in rain-drenched Tokyo that looks like something out of Blade Runner, places a newspaper ad asking for people to share their dreams with her, which gets more complicated than she expected. Yehezkel Lazarov co-stars as an Israeli detective.
Among the films in the Israeli Feature Competition will be Alamork Davidian’s Fig Tree, which is showing in the Toronto International Film Festival, about an Ethiopian young woman’s journey to Israel. Two Israeli films that had their world premieres in Venice will also take part in the competition: Yaron Shani’s Stripped, the story of a complex love affair, and Sameh Zoabi’s Tel Aviv on Fire, a comic look at the staff of a soap opera produced in Ramallah.
There is an enormously varied slate of films in the Gala Program. Loro is a critically-acclaimed biopic of Silvio Berlusconi, directed by Oscar-winning Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty). Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace tells the story of a man who keeps his daughter living an isolated life in the woods. Nadav Lapid’s Israeli film, The Kindergarten Teacher, about a teacher who kidnaps a pupil she thinks is a genius poet, has been remade into an American version starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. Swimming with Men is a comedy-drama about a British men’s swim team, directed by Oliver Parker. Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones stars with Elle Fanning in Reed Morano’s I Think We’re Alone Now, about two survivors of a disaster that has killed the rest of the earth’s population.
In the Carmel Competition, one of the standouts is the drama Dovlatov, directed by Aleksey German, which is about the late Russian writer Sergei Dovlatov, but it is anything but a conventional biopic. It follows him over several days in Leningrad in the early 1970s, as he tries to eke out a living writing for factory newsletters, struggles to get his serious work published and hangs out with his friend, Joseph Brodsky, who tries to convince him to emigrate to the US. While this might sound like an obscure bit of literary history, it is a fascinating, exhilarating film.
I was lucky enough to see this at the Berlin International Film Festival and I walked out of the theater and immediately bought one of Dovlatov’s novels. Israeli audiences will love this film and I hope it finds a distributor here.
Also in the Carmel Competition is Israeli director Hagar Ben-Asher’s latest film, Dead Women Walking, a fact-based drama about female death-row inmates.
Paul Schrader, who is best known for writing the screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, has a new film, First Reformed, about a tormented priest (Ethan Hawke), that will be shown in the Panorama Section.
Among the films in the Golden Anchor competition, for movies from countries that border the Mediterranean, will be The Summer House, directed by and starring Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as a screenwriter dealing with a breakup.
Three Identical Strangers, directed by Tim Wardle, is a documentary about identical Jewish triplets separated at birth and later reunited, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival. It will be shown in the “Between Israeli and Jewish Identity” section.
Another much-acclaimed documentary is The Eyes of Orson Welles, directed by Mark Cousins, which will be shown in the documentary section.
There will be tributes to the late Agnès Varda and Israeli film editor/director, Era Lapid.
For more information and to order tickets, go to the festival website at https://www.haifaff.co.il/eng