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© Courtesy of Another Look
© Courtesy of Another Look

10 Classic European Films Screening In Israel

Picture of Pavlina Schultz
Updated: 8 January 2017
Israeli art-house buffs now have the opportunity to watch great films that have been carefully selected, restored, retouched, and digitalized for Another Look – The Restored European Film Project.

Already in its fourth year, Another Look lets Israeli audiences catch some fabulous gems of classic cinema. The 2016 program of 10 films will be shown at the Cinematheques in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Holon, and Herzliya during the months of January and February.

As in previous editions, the 2016 selection is centered on a theme. Titled Role Play: Femininity and Masculinity on Film, the program examines the relationship between traditional gender roles and greater political, cultural, and economic forces. The purpose here, however, is not only to discuss historical European definitions of what conventionally constitutes “feminine” and “masculine”, but to locate in them, at least in part, the roots of contemporary Israeli gender roles. As such, Another Look provides its audience with a unique vantage point for questioning the attitudes associated with masculinity and femininity in Israeli society today.

For the full screening schedule check the festival website.

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‘Daisies’ / Photo: courtesy of Another Look

 Daisies (Czechoslovakia, 1966)

Under the belief that the world is “spoiled”, two young girls – Marie I and Marie II – decide they must become spoiled, too. Throwing caution to the winds, they embark on an escapade of mischief, pulling pranks on elderly men, wreaking havoc in public spaces, and indulging in the orgiastic consumption of food. Nothing is taken seriously, so everything is fair game. But will retribution find them in the end?

The 1960s Czech New Wave put Czech films on the map of world cinema, and audiences in Israel were exposed to the early works of directors such as Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel. Director Vera Chytilova is from this generation and her heroines in Daisies break the patriarchy’s idealized images of womanhood; they are not patient and devoted mothers, wives, or daughters whose lives are reduced to passivity, but rather active agents who are aware of their own wishes and determine their particular life trajectories accordingly. 

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‘Death of a Cyclist’ / Photo: courtesy of Another Look

Death of a Cyclist (Spain, 1955) 

During a secret getaway, college professor Juan and married socialite Maria José run over a cyclist. Afraid that the truth of their affair will come out, they leave the man to die. This choice affects them both differently: while Maria José wishes to return to her life of comfort, Juan finds in guilt an opportunity to rise above his bourgeois complacency and achieve redemption. Such discrepancy pulls the two lovers apart, with catastrophic results.

Juan Antonio Bardem’s Death of a Cyclist is the best known work to come out of the Madrid Film School – a group of leftist filmmakers who challenged the ultra-conservative ideology of Franco’s Spain, and specifically its reliance on Fascism and Catholicism’s masculine mystique.

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‘Suburban Cabaret’ / Photo: courtesy of Another Look

Suburban Cabaret (Austria, 1935)

On the eve of World War I, architectural draughtsman Josef and aspiring cabaret performer Mizzi are about to get married. Josef is afraid that cabaret life may corrupt his fiancé, so before enlisting he asks her to move from Vienna to his parents’ countryside home. While acquiescing at first, Mizzi ultimately finds rural life too stifling and returns to the cabaret stage. Angered by her decision, Josef demands that she quit her frivolity, but this only pushes Mizzi away, and into the lower depths of Viennese decadence.

A little-known gem, Suburban Cabaret was filmed in Austria by German director Werner Hochbaum, then a well-known cineaste whose leftist affiliations made him persona non grata in Nazi Germany. Adapting an anti-militarist play on turn-of-the-century Vienna, Hochbaum pushed its setting forward to 1913 in order to comment on the rise of German authoritarianism and its implications for gender relations. 

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‘The Green Years’ / Photo: courtesy of Another Look

The Green Years (Portugal, 1963)

Leaving his rural life behind, the young Júlio aims to try his luck in Lisbon as an apprentice shoemaker. There he accidentally meets Ilda, a former country girl who is now employed as a maid by an upper-class family. While Júlio is unable to adjust to metropolitan living, Ilda seems to thrive on its promise of upward mobility. This fundamental opposition between the two gradually eats away at their budding romance and leads them down a path of violence from which there is no return.

The first work of New Portuguese Cinema, The Green Years epitomized this movement’s desire to counter the repressiveness of state-endorsed popular filmmaking and unveil the true realities of Salazar’s Portugal. The film accomplishes this goal by interrogating the dominant social conflict between urban and rural, rich and poor, through its reverberations within the romantic sphere. 

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‘Camera Buff ‘/ Photo: courtesy of Another Look

Camera Buff (Poland, 1979) 

On the occasion of his wife’s first pregnancy, Filip buys a camera to record the birth and development of his daughter-to-be. Discovering this, his bosses ask him to start creating films for their state-run company. Exposed to the wonders of cinema, Filip immerses himself in amateur filmmaking and gradually develops artistic aspirations. Yet such ambitions place the fledgling director in opposition to both wife and employers, forcing him to make some painful choices.

Featuring a mélange of Catholicism and Communism, 1970s Poland often found strength in the former so as to resist the latter. Yet because both institutions shared similar conservative perspectives, such resistance often remained paternalistic in nature. This film was Krzysztof Kieslowski’s first fiction feature to gain international recognition.

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‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ / Photo: courtesy of Another Look

 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (France, 1964)

Beautiful umbrella saleswoman Geneviève (played by the then-ingénue Catherine Deneuve) and handsome mechanic Guy are in a loving relationship. Fate intervenes, however, when Guy is drafted into the Algerian War. Geneviève is left behind, pregnant with his child. At first, separation seems unbearable and dire omens loom on the horizon. Yet as reality dawns, the lovers gradually discover that life continues, regardless.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, winner of the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival, came out during a postwar period of relative material affluence, characterized by a valorization of love and couplehood in the traditional bourgeois sense. At face value, the film seems to celebrate these values, bringing a classic narrative of heterosexual romantic love to the screen. Director Jacques Demy decided to shape this story fantastically — as a musical where characters never stop singing — and shot it in beautiful colours. 

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‘Face to Face’ / Photo: courtesy of Another Look

Face to Face (Greece, 1966)

Dimitris, an impoverished and disillusioned professor of English, is contracted to give private lessons to Varvara, the daughter of a wealthy family, who is betrothed to a British businessman. Though blaming the upper classes for his personal failures, he nevertheless enters into a romantic relationship with his affluent student. And when the romance ends upon the arrival of the British suitor, the professor succumbs to yet another affair, this time with the mother. Caught within a web of bourgeois decadence, Dimitris finds himself increasingly struggling with moral questions — and fighting for the salvation of his soul.

Greece’s postwar period was marked by hyper-modernization and by the urban culture overshadowing the nation’s once dominant rural lifestyle. This caused major changes in the historically conservative definitions of Greek masculinity and femininity, especially in relation to their moral codes of honor (for men) and shame (for women). 

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‘Fists in the Pocket’ / Photo: courtesy of Another Look

Fists in the Pocket (Italy, 1965)

Inside a rural villa, in a state of self-imposed exile, four siblings live together with their mother. Tensions tear through their fragile existence, fueled by the mental imbalance and physical disabilities of all family members save Augusto, the eldest brother. Pained by the understanding that his beloved elder sibling must carry the responsibility of the family’s financial wellbeing, the adolescent Alessandro hatches a scheme to lighten Augusto’s load. In realizing this end, however, the young protagonist’s devilish imagination justifies all means. Liberation subsequently breeds ruination, confronting the family with its darkest fears and desires.

Fists in the Pocket is Marco Bellocchio’s celebrated debut film; it was funded by family members and shot on family property. Bellocchio made a big impact on Italian cinema in the mid-1960s. Much of its impact relied on the film’s attack on Italy’s dominant patriarchal values. 

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‘Our Director’ / Photo: courtesy of Another Look

Our Director (Romania, 1955)

At a plant in communist Romania, everybody is getting ready for a special ceremony awarding job excellence. Yet when a couple of workers publicly raise criticism as to the plant’s commitment to proletarian values, the esteemed director grows anxious that his privileges will soon be taken away. Attempting to mend his ways, he makes use of a bumbling clerk whose only real concern in life is his vegetable garden. Yet such efforts seem too antithetical to his character, landing the executive in an even bigger mess.

Under communist rule, 1950s Romania committed itself to a new egalitarian ethos that nullified gender hierarchies. Women were considered capable of hard work just like men, and bourgeois notions of marriage were replaced with the vision of a man-woman partnership aimed at benefiting the nation. Such ideas clearly serve as the background for Jean Georgescu’s noted satire.

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‘Jeanne Dielman’ / Photo: courtesy of Another Look

Jeanne Dielman (Belgium, 1975)

At her Brussels home, the widowed Jeanne Dielman lives out a quiet and organized existence with her adolescent son. Cleaning, cooking, making the bed, folding clothes – these are all parts of her daily routine. Even her “indiscretions” – centered around afternoon trysts whose nature is gradually revealed – seem to complement a particular domestic order. Yet such careful balancing cannot but exact a toll, a tragic truth that Jeanne would come to realize as her humdrum life starts bursting at the seams.

Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman was unique in film history. While classical cinema’s narrative economy only emphasized reality’s “interesting bits”, Akerman sought instead to make a film about what happens in-between: about daily routines, meticulously recreated and shown in real time. This choice was not merely stylistic, for what bourgeois patriarchal society of 1970s Europe often considered uninteresting was exactly that which pertains to “women’s work”.