Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2023 11:54 am 
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Film shall set them free?

This Israeli first film was the country's best foreign Oscar entry for 2023 (not a finalist). It won won Best Film and Best Director at the Awards Of The Israeli Film Academy in 2022. Israeli films recently shortlisted for the best foreign Oscar were Beaufort (2007), Waltz with Bashir (2008, Ajami (2009), Footnote (2011), and Foxtrot (2017). Impressive company indeed, but this is a film that contains multitudes, that quietly creeps up on you and makes you cry.

To start with the majority of Arab women in the group gathered for a workshop in video-making in the coastal Israeli town of Hadera, ask why it's being started in Hebrew, and they're told because they understand that language and the Israeli women don't understand Arabic. So, the ruling language rules, except that Arabic does frequently come into play. But one is struck by the cooperative, friendly, cheerful spirit. The very varied ladies, old, young, Jewish, Arab, orthodox, liberal, are excited to be here. The authentic documentary feel is so strong, one may be surprised to learn this is NOT a doc, though most of the women are non actors, presumably drawing on their own selves for their "characters." Another starting point: what's "sabaya," an Arabic word, mean? Mispronounced, it means "prisoner of war." Pronounced with the Arabic letter Saad at the start it is the plural of Sabiyya, girl, or more properly young woman, and it's the name of a TV show. (It recalls the older generation phrase women of my mother's generation used for themselves in the Fifties when getting together, "The Girls.")

The teacher is Rona (Dana Igvy), whom they meet once a week at the city hall of the town (some long to move to Tel Aviv). They each get cameras and bring in what they've shot that week. That's interesting, but it's just as interesting how they interact. They have natural-feeling disagreements on such basic things as homosexuality, the wearing of the hijab, and standing up to your husband.

A warm and human Israeli Oscar entry if not one of the most exciting ones, this will appeal to US audiences interested in the country's regional social variations from a feminine point of view without delving too deep or painfully into the true conflicts and wrongs of Arab and Jew that trouble this country. That pops up only once, and if it were allowed to flow freely, there would be no Cinema Sabaya.

There is an enthusiastic recent Screen Daily review by Nikki Baughan (Dec. 6, 2022). The good thing about this film is that it's a women-on-women story in the foreground coming from a Middle Eastern world that is very male-dominated. Something new. If it has its rough moments and its longeurs, maybe that's what breaking new ground is like.

Cinema Sabaya, 91 mins., debuted at Jerusalem Aug. 25, 2021, showing thereafter at about a dozen other festivals including Warsaw, Chicago, Sydney, Tallinn Black Nights and Taipei. Distributed in the US by Kino Lorber, it opens in New York Feb. 10, 2023 at Quad Cinema and in Los Angeles Feb. 24 at the Laemmle Royal, with national expansion to follow.

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