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By Carole Bell
Observer Columnist 

Imaginative and Historic

Smart And Spicy


November 9, 2017

A good film entertains. A great film engages our feelings, and entertains; it teaches us.

From Israel, Germany, Italy, and Spain, films beckon to our hearts. They call to us, at times as powerfully as the Greek sirens luring sailors by seduction. Sometimes a powerhouse film seduces as it goes on; the beguiling happens while we watch.

At the Israel Film Festival, over 40 films and 30 filmmakers wiggle an index finger drawing you in. The diversity's delightful, and in theaters this week.

Opening night glittered; stars packed the premiere film, "Ben-Gurion, Epilogue." Historically revealing, it's a remarkable interview with David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel. Time called him one of the "100 Most Important People of the 20th Century."

The filmed interview was lost; the video existed, but no one knew who had the soundtrack. Someone else had the soundtrack, but lacked video. The newly-discovered interview was filmed in 1968, five years before Ben-Gurion's death. Living a secluded life in the Negev desert, he searches his soul about events, yielding a highly personal view of history from the man at the top.

Midst disclosures of hidden motivations, we get to see this funny little man without vanity. With fashion clearly not a concern, Ben-Gurion is unpretentious, so uncaught up in image-politics that he permits a rather charming sequence where he appears in what the British would call a "swimming costume;" it's unlikely today's leaders would allow the optics. There's also a rather innocent contest where both Ben-Gurion and the great American violinist Yehudi Menuhin stand on their heads.

Sadly, Ben-Gurion never finished writing his history; this interview might possibly be the closest to it.

Endearingly, when asked what he liked to do, Ben-Gurion said he likes reading, mentioning that he'd been reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin" since he was eight.

He worked together with Germany's Konrad Adenauer to compensate for Nazi Germany's confiscating Jewish property during the Holocaust; was the first to sign the Israeli Declaration of Independence; and led Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Interviewed by Edward R. Murrow, Ben-Gurion discusses how to get over the fear of making mistakes.

He says he's not a Zionist, nor a socialist. Asked, "What are you?" he tells:

"I'm a Jew who wants to live in a world where there is peace among nations."

* * *

"Divine Order" is an enjoyable film, also mingling history with amusement. Featured at the German Currents Film Festival, it's Switzerland's Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film. It followed the California premiere of the sensual "Egon Schiele: Death and The Maiden."

Did you know that women couldn't vote in Switzerland until 1971?

The story of how Swiss women got the right to vote, against the odds of men, and some women, preferring the status quo, is hilarious.

This is an example of how high-quality films can charm while teaching. In a small Swiss town, we see Nora, frustrated because she wants to take a part-time job, but her husband's permission is required; he won't approve, worrying about who'd do the housework. Innocently, taking baby steps toward her own independence, Nora becomes the face of her town's suffragette movement.

Despite threats and almost losing her marriage, Nora tentatively starts bonding with the women in her village, ultimately leading a women's strike.

Directed by Petra Volpe, this is a brave, warm-hearted film. It's in theaters this weekend.

* * *

The lovely and ambitious events schedule at the Italian Cultural Institute introduced an utterly alluring film, "Bread and Tulips." Venice, Italy stars in this romantic comedy with odd characters and common sense, but it's not the Venice you might recognize from glam travel posters. This is the Venice you don't see much; it's working people's Venice, the neighborhoods where the real people live, away from over-saturated tourist spots. That doesn't mean it's grimy; the beauty still sparkles.

What can you say about seeing a film first shown in 2000? Just that, in reality, how lucky one feels getting the chance to see such a good movie.

Directed by Silvio Soldini, "Bread and Tulips" is a running commentary on contemporary issues: women's rights, the nature of marriage, the yearning for independence, the desperation of aging.

When Rosalba, a housewife, gets left behind by the tour bus her family took for their vacation, she hitchhikes, impetuously deciding to follow fate and spend time in Venice, where she's never been. With money running out and a desire for escape, she finds a sympathetic waiter who offers a safe room for the night. The waiter, on the verge of hanging himself when Rosalba shows up, turns out to be not so bad. Spontaneously applying for work in a flower shop, Rosalba quickly becomes part of the daily rhythm of Venice.

That is, until the investigator her husband sent to find her arrives. The bumbling persona of this not-really-a-professional detective masks another endearing soul searching for his own place in the world.

Together, the offbeat characters, including the sweetly weird upstairs masseuse and the gruff florist who hires Rosalba, form a warmly caring bunch of people just trying to live a good life.

As in, sometimes you're suffocating, and you don't know it.

It's a quirky little film, not charming, but altogether human. It has laughs, a sort of familial style, a surprise ending - and, above all, it's got Venice.

* * *

Recent Spanish Cinema offered the US debut of top films from Spain, including the intriguing "Smoke and Mirrors." A look at a former Spanish secret service agent who escapes scandal by faking his own death, it illustrates the t-shirt quote, "Whoever ends up with the most toys, wins."

* * *

The chance to learn, to perhaps grow, to understand. That's the marvel of being able to expose oneself to these films, which are after all, just an outside wrapper for ideas.

I'd urge you to indulge frequently; the more idiosyncratic the film, the more potential to learn.


Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.

You can write to her at:


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