Sure, there are exceptions—”Benny and Joon,” “The Other Sister”—but if erotic attraction arises, it’s generally between intellectual equals. Which is one of the reasons Israeli director Nitzan Giladi’s “The Wedding Doll” caught the attention of audiences when it played at Toronto last month, en route to an Ophir award for star Moran Rosenblatt in Tel Aviv.
In “The Wedding Doll,” Rosenblatt plays Hagit, a worker in a family-run paper factory who is in love with the owners’ son, Omri (Roy Assaf), who finds Hagit and her constantly smiling face adorable (as does the viewer). Omri knows a relationship is impossible, which makes him a louse; Hagit thinks a relationship-engagement is not just possible, but happening—which makes her an object of poignancy and pathos. And, not incidentally, desire.
Israel is a curious case. It is, perhaps justifiably, highly defensive about its image. While its film industry has achieved greater and greater respect in recent years—partly by getting away from a diet of domestic dramas and films about the conflict— it hasn’t quite gotten to the point where it wants to send some off-beat movie to Hollywood. And sometimes the calculations seem obvious.
Unlike some countries and their shadowy committees, Israel has a rule: The winner of the best picture Ophir, the award of the Israel Academy of Film and Television, is automatically the Oscar submission. In 2013, the wildly popular “Big Bad Wolves,” a bloody horror thriller, got 11 Ophir nominations—but not one for best picture. Last year, “Zero Motivation,” the often hilarious comedy about women in the Israeli military, was widely seen, and widely praised, and won six of the 12 Ophirs for which it was nominated – but again, not best picture, which went to “Gett: The Story of Viviane Ansalem” (a tremendous film, and one critical of Israeli, but not a comedy – everyone knows the the Oscars have an allergy to comedy).
Yair Raveh of Israeli film site Cinemascope suggests that those voting for the Ophir have the Oscars in mind when they make their picks. “The Israeli Academy is Oscar crazy,” he tweets. “In reality, most recent winners were not The Best Picture but rather The Film We Think The American Will Like The Most. ‘Baba Joon’ didn’t win Directing, Writing or Acting awards, only art/tech ones (Cinematography, Production Design, Score). Many Academy members told me: ‘I loved film A, but it won’t fit the Oscars so I’m voting for B.’ The system is bankrupt.”