The young Israeli cinema, only 60 years old with an existential leap to the world attention just 10 years ago, knows a lot of shooting stars directors. They are young and energetic, full of attitude and good will, but swallowed in their own environment stories and disappear after a movie. Maximum two. True, these films are often vested commercial and artistic successes, awards and international recognition, but as individuals, combustion is fast and sometimes fierce.
The materials Eran Riklis is made of are different. He is a true planet, glowing on the Israeli industry for so many years, with stability and ability that has so few competitors, offering the quality and aroma of a true professional. Riklis gets up in the morning to the cinema, making cinema all day long and go to sleep with cinema as a director, screenwriter and producer. And so for 30 years at least. Generation of cinematic life.
He made films in every possible genre. Political dramas, movies, musical, Journey Films, biographies, suspense films, film adaptations of best-selling books, lots of TV commercials – whatever the film world can offer. Like a true professional who knows his duties and the need of film to appeal to a wider audience, he knows how to combine in every movie, every subject he touches, the appropriate ingredients.
His cinema is not a groundbreaking one, but he knows very well how to walk in familiar and proven paths offering professionalism in the wide range of his filmography. Broad-minded, as one who knows the needs of the audience, especially international one, his films are directed primarily to this environment. The notion is looking out to European and American markets and therefore its commercial success comes mainly from there.
Riklis knows what the international market wants to see in Israeli movie and provides it with these elements. A drop from the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, portion of heroic folk heroes with background of trauma and human turmoils, and fistful of popular music. And the adaptation of the successful book, better if it is known outside of Israel.
He is a director in every inch of his soul who does not squint too deeply to be involved in other professions in the film process scriptwriting, photography and editing. These areas he leaves to the professional in their field – and for his films he is casting the best. As one who rubbed his knowhow on many TV dramas and commercials, his abilities to combine both the dramatic and visual environment is part of the professionalism spread out on his films.
The boundaries of his films political and social debate moves around the soft left, the right perception of the European Community where he also completed his film studies. Those perceptions have been established already in his 1984 debut film On a Clear Day You Can See Damascus (B’Yom Bahir Ro’im et Dameshek). This is the story of Uri Sharon, a kibbutz member from the north of Israel who was sentenced to life imprisonment after being accused of spying for Syria. After his arrest, the lives of two of his best friends changes. Ron, a musician who is not involved in political inaction leaves to Tel Aviv looking for new musical directions with Arab music. Joseph, a volunteer from England who helped Uri in the past, repatriates and find employment working for political organizations. Gradually the hidden connections between these characters revealed.
On a Clear Day You Can See Damascus is an ideological spy thriller gradually reveal the characters that are used as tools in the hands of larger forces. The film got lukewarm reviews in the country and was part of a series of similar oriented films that met an audience that would not apprehend the critical of the political statements directed against the occupation.
The reaction to the film sent Riklis to a seven years in TV production exile where he could polish his abilities as a director. The environment of the soap opera and television drama series along with integration into the actions of commercial world allowed Riklis to tune his professionalism, study and repair on-the-move, to find his way how to work with actors, deal with scripts and construct processing facilities that will shape the making of films come.
The big breakthrough came in 1991 with Cup Final (Gmar Gavi’a). The film takes place in 1982. Israel invades Lebanon. Sergeant Cohen, an Israeli reserve, a trader and a family man, an avid football fan, was already on the way to Spain to watch the World Cup games, when war caught him. While being on duty in southern Lebanon he and his commander are captured by a unit of the PLO in retreat from the area. The squad leader is Ziad, a Palestinian who lived several years in Italy before returning to Lebanon. Difficult and hostile landscape, with the Israeli army moves quickly around them, is a constant threat to the captors and their prisoners…
Cup Final focuses on an unusual friendship developed between Cohen and the Palestinian captors, who share mutual sympathy for the Italian soccer team. They will develop contacts who overcome their differences and the situation in which they are trapped together. The film examines this coexistence with humor, compassion, violence and humanity.
It certainly was one of the best films of Riklis, but despite the Renaissance that began to develop between the Israeli public and its film industry since the 1990s with films that described mainly the atmosphere of urban Tel Aviv by night (Shuru by Savi Gabizon) and contrary to fame and awards it won worldwide, the film won only minor local success. The main reason was the difference between the generic nature of the film as almost classic war movie and the local application to the Middle East and suitability to the nature of the Palestinian – Israeli conflict whom the Israelis know from close hands (a wonderful place for testing the way a film is absorbed and accepted in his home country and abroad). It was claimed that the developing human relationship between the film protagonists are not possible vis-a-vis the hatred that exists between the two camps. Love of football only can not cover the gap.
Great local success came only with Riklis’s next film, Zohar (1993), primarily drawing life and death of a very famous and admired Mediteranean-music icon, a tragic figure that her personal story was a true cinematic monument. The film reveals the life story of Zohar Argov who began his meteor-rise as a star singer, to the deterioration abuse to suicide in his cell at the police station in Rishon Lezion. The film begins with Argov’s release from prison, one year of imprisonment for rape, and ends with his death in custody. The film that contains many of the well known songs uses flashbacks from his childhood and moments from his career including his drug addiction with a comparison to the PR Begin days as the first right-wing leader.
It will not be the last time for reckless to draw at the story of a real figure that the Israeli public loved so much as a subject matter to one of his films. Years later he will do it with the story of the legendary basketball coach, Mr. Ralph Klein in Playoff (2011). On both cases, he tries to uncover the motives of the characters on their way to the top – they both go all the way from distressed situations to the peak of personal ability. The first, Zohar Argov with ethnic discrimination and a sense of personal crisis that leads to the big crash and the second – a Holocaust survivor who finds in Israel his personal and professional fulfillment, but is ready to go back to Germany that killed so many of his people as the basketball national coach, only to prove his victory. Both, despite personal success, remain outside the circle with a considerable degree of self-destruction.
The phenomenal success of Zohar led Riklis, olfactory to commercial success, to another cinematic experience in the films-with-and-about music (these are not musicals per Ce), this time the with a story that takes place in another part of Israeli multiple faces. Vulcan Junction (Tzomet volkan) was produced in 1999, the same year the Israeli parliament enacted the film law, an act that tripled the amount of subsidy to cinema from the state, changed the face of the industry and created a tremendous springboard for the quality and quantity of films produced in Israel.
The film tells the story of a group of youngsters in a small town near Haifa just prior to the Yom Kippur War. The center of the group is the rock band Genetic Code, and the local pub called Vulcan Junction where they meet and rehearse. They are trying to record a first album and dream about the big city Tel Aviv.
Each band member debating its own doubts about self-realization, studies in the music academy or continue in the band, support one’s family or perform as musician at night, or courting young girls. Further characters are a young girl who wants to be a journalist and a brilliant footballer that have trouble with the law. Through the eyes of the characters, the self-realization dilemmas and dynamics posed between friends reflect the period before October 1973, which was characterized by innocence torn by war.
Vulcan Junction and Temptation (Pituy) that followed in 2002 were hybrid films that had been primarily made for television but screened for the first time in the cinema. Part of the experience of Riklis to break the mechanism of film distribution, but the audience and the critics did not respond as he had hoped for. But because he did not produce these films the silence at the box office at least did not hurt that much.
Temptation is a genre film, a thriller made with a view to American cinema. It is based on a bestseller by Ram Oren and offers an option for international distribution for those who want to exploit a Hollywood thriller, with less familiar stars. This is a story about a bookstore owner, a married bourgeois lady from one of the richest suburbs of Tel Aviv falling for a mysterious man. After he disappears from her life with her money, her best friend joins in for a sophisticated seduction and revenge journey.
Riklis himself, in an interview before the release of the film reduced expectations: “The intention was to make a film along the cod of American cinema, without creating antagonism among the audience, with a twist at the end, not fake, not a trivial fall. Mainstream in the best sense of the word.”
The Syrian Bride (2004) marks the international breakthrough of Riklis. Here is an exhaustive of his ability to tell a human story, dramatic tragedy submerged in the Middle East, and portray it with remarkable visual quality. And here, for the first time he gains global embrace and attention, prizes are accumulating in the closet and sympathy of the audience rides again. The key fits the lock and opened the cash register.
The film shot in cinemascope, speaks three languages and produced with an impressive budget for domestic production. It is a co-production between Israel, Germany and France.
The Syrian Bride Mona, a young girl of a Galilee Druze family, was married to a relative on the other side of the Syrian border. The film takes place during her wedding day. But the most joyous day of Mona, it is also the saddest day of her life. Once across the line for her husband, she could no longer go back and meet her family on the Israeli side. Mona’s misfortune lies as a dark cloud, clouded the joy of marriage. But Riklis is less interested in Mona’s feelings. He uses her and her wedding day to draw broad fresco of the family, the spirit of freedom and personal liberty that motivate them to cross borders of social tradition of bureaucracy and even hostile countries.
Unlike more serious social aspects, Eran Riklis takes more humorous style when he deals with the Syrian – Israeli conflict. The second part of the film, when the bride is supposed to cross the border, bureaucratic disputes arise when a Syrian officer revealed an Israeli stamp in Mona’s passport. UN mediator tediously running around between the two sides, trying to solve the problem. Riklis exaggerating his directing into an absurd caricature and the result becomes funny and sad all together. The Syrian Bride is a film that unfolds across, not to an overwhelming depth.But its characters are focused, well played, and the end result is quite fun that brought in numerous Ophir (Israeli Oscar) nominations, awards and invitations to several big festivals of the world as an important element in the success of Israeli cinema in the last 5-6 years.
With Lemon Tree (2008) he understands that he shouldn’t argue with success, especially as a director who is mainly and knowingly crowd pleaser and presents to the European audience its most convenient premise – showing the ugly face of the occupation. It is in this case the injustices and the vagaries acts of dispossession of the poor Palestinian woman under the rigid security rule. Riklis knows that it carries a potential explosive reaction in Israel (which did not happen eventually) but not for the first time, he reminds himself of being mainly an export director, a director whose films is aimed towards the international market where they received very well . Lemon Tree won the Audience award in Berlin Film Festival Panorama and sales graph answers after the success accordingly.
The film lays out before us the uncompromising struggle of a Palestinian widow that lives in a village at the border. When the minister of defense buys a neighboring house the secret service requires uproot her family lemon grove, for security reasons. Using her lawyer she is trying to postpone the decision and help, unexpected, appears with the wife of the Minister.
Although he was careful during the interviews from explicit political statements and defines the film as general human drama, Riklis offers here a cinematic protest about the walls dividing between peoples. That makes life unbearable on the Palestinian side as opposite to the comfortable life of the neighbors to the west. The scenes filmed on the other side of the border, portray the Palestinians as human and touching empathic people, while most of the chapters that offer the Israeli side are satire, accuses their less pleasant existence.
But professional Riklis does not cross the fine line between teasing and condemning the Israeli establishment, trying not to hurt too much. He still lives and operates from Israel, after all. The end of the film offers a pat on the shoulders of the two sides, each with his own perspective and no one really angry with pain.
The Human Resources Manager or The Mission of the Human Resources Manager (Shlichuto Shel Hamemune Al Mashabei Enosh, 2010) is a film that Riklis can record on his successes column. With five Ofir awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Audience awards at several festivals in Europe, he continues his well paved journey. It’s a professional film, with entangled story and rich budget and with an international team.
Unknown, foreign worker, was killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, nobody knows her or looking for her. One of her employers set out for a journey to her homeland, looking for her family and tries to bring her to proper burial. This is a classic road movie inherent in the reality of Israeli life, a reality that we sometimes prefer to push under the carpet.
The plot, based on the book by A.B. Yehoshua reveals the pain of bereavement alongside the phenomenon of migration of anonymous strangers from one corner of the world to another. But despite the names involved in the production the film is not without problems and most severe of them is the literary source. This is not one of the high quality of Yehoshua heavy and acclaimed body of work. But with Noah Stolman’s skillful script and a wonderful photographer, Riklis succeeds to overcome some of the weak points, but the film’s main problem remains its devoid of emotion and is its monotony
Riklis, the human locomotive continues to gallop and a year later offers Playoff, the story of Ralph Klein, a national figure in Israel. Riklis’s, one of the professional directors working in Israeli cinema, the decision goes to the story of Ralph Klein – Mr. Basketball, or at least the period of one problematic chapter of his life, was an interesting decision. Here he takes the task of exposing some of the issues that accompany the existence of the Jewish people after the Holocaust, and bring about, potentially some issues of substance.
The question of memory, guilt, punishment and forgiveness surround this episode in the life of a basketball coach that won the European Championship with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Ralph Klein was a gifted basketball player himself as a young man, an immigrant with no roots in a new land, a refugee from Nazi horrors, he was an orphan full with feelings of guilt and responsibility for the fate of his lost father.
Ralph Klein (Max Stoller in the film) returning to Germany in the early 80s to coach its national team. Closing an account? Revenge? Proof of victory? All probably true, but Riklis option goes about basketball only. Only through this small window Max is ready to look at reality.
The film is an Israeli – German – French co-production, shot in English, with an American actor starring – Danny Huston, son of director John Huston and half-brother of actress Anjelica Huston. It was a big budget film, especially in terms of Israeli Cinema (25 million dolar) and it’s one of the most expensive films ever made here. Its premiere was held at the Montreal Film Festival and from there he went the way of other national and international festivals, as should one of the articulate and a professional director, whose roots While in Israel, but its habitat is the entire world.
Gidi Orcher, Israel