The bad news is that Pan’s Labyrinth didn’t win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. But the good news is that it won THREE other awards (Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Best Art Direction). And in those categories it was truly deserving. The fantasy characters in the dream sequences of this film are stunning–like very little you’ve seen before in film. If you haven’t yet seen it read my review and go.
I was also pleased that West Bank Story won for Best Live Action Short, the first Israeli film to do so. Don’t be put off by the hokey website. Kenneth Turan, a reviewer I respect greatly wrote this about the film:
“Set where else but the West Bank, this sharp and funny mock musical features a forbidden love between Israeli soldier David and the Palestinian Fatima, a love that cannot be because their families operate the deadly rival snack stands Hummus Hut and Kosher King. Expertly made and impressive down to the finger snapping of the rival gangs and the mugging of a camel named Stormy, West Bank Story shows that short films done right retain the power to surprise and delight the way they always have.”
Haaretz carries an interview with the Israeli-American director, Ari Sandel, in which he acknowledges his commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace:
“I was always interested in politics, primarily the Middle East conflict,” said Sandel, 32, the film’s director and co-writer…He said he is active in several political organizations, including Peace Now.
“I studied Islam and Judaism in college, and visited many countries in the Middle East, including Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Turkey and Dubai. I’ve watched around 100 documentaries about the conflict, and found that almost all of them were pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. They were full of information, interesting and fascinating, but almost all are depressing and devoid of any hope.
“I decided I wanted to make a film that would give viewers a feeling that there is hope, because I really do believe peace between the sides is possible, that it can happen.”
Even though he visits Israel every year, Sandel, whose mother is American and whose father is Israeli, repeatedly noted that he was careful to maintain balance in his film.
“I wanted to create a film that would do three things: draw attention, make people laugh and present a positive and balanced position in support of peace,” he said. “It was important to me to be very careful to maintain balance and equality between the sides, because most films show only one side of the conflict and then viewers from the other side feel the movie is biased.”
Sandel chose a musical comedy, he said, because this is “a way of abstracting the story of the conflict, taking the suffering out of it so that people can let down their defenses and identify with the characters on both sides. I knew that dances and songs would make the subject more light-hearted, more accessible. It’s a lot easier to see Jews and Arabs dancing together than to see them fighting. After all, dancing is so far removed from what people usually think about Jews and Arabs.”
Another worthy won as well: Alan Arkin for Best Supporting Actor. Arkin is one of America’s best character actors. I put him right up there with Peter Falk. Like all the great character actors, he doesn’t steal the scene and so doesn’t get his due for the magnificence of his craft. He was unbelievably good in the cable show, 101 Centre Street, which was directed by Sidney Lumet. He played a wise, tired and cynical New York judge burdened by the troubles of the world. The character he played was so sweet, and confused and so damn human. Naturally, it lasted ten episodes before it was yanked. Memorable television.
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