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Israel’s Oscars: What movies will take home this year’s Ophirs? – Israel Culture

Seven Blessings, the female-centric drama about a trauma that haunts a Moroccan bride and her family, will likely dominate the Ophir Awards this year, which will be presented in a ceremony broadcast in a live episode of Guy Pines’s Channel 12 program on September 10. The Ophir Awards are the prizes of the Israeli Academy of Film and Television and they are Israel’s equivalent of the Academy Awards in the US.

The other contenders in the top category are Benny Fredman’s Home, about a computer store owner in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood; Maayan Rypp’s The Other Widow, a story of love and adultery in a theater company; Dani Rosenberg’s The Vanishing Soldier, about a soldier who deserts his unit in Gaza and hides in Tel Aviv; and Adar Shafran’s Running on Sand, about an Eritrean asylum seeker who is mistaken for a Nigerian soccer star.

The stars seem aligned for Seven Blessings – which received 12 nominations – to sweep all the major categories for which it is nominated, including Best Movie; Best Director for Ayelet Menahemi, a popular director who has not released a movie since Noodle in 2007; and Best Screenplay for Reymonde Amsallem, its star, and Eleanor Sela, an actress who appears in the movie and who reportedly based the story on her own family.

Relatively few movies directed by women and few films about Mizrahi Jews have won the Ophir Award in recent years, and this will give Seven Blessings an edge, as will the fact that it concerns an unusual story, one that we haven’t seen before.

You might think that Culture and Sport Minister Miki Zohar, who happens to be of Moroccan-Tunisian ancestry, would be on hand to cheer on Seven Blessings, but he begged off, citing a scheduling conflict. He knows that the film community, which largely opposes the judicial reform, would not give him a warm welcome.

Oz Zehavi (center) hosts the 2022 Ophir Awards ceremony, September 18, 2022 (credit: ELIRAN AVITAL, ITZIK BIRAN)

Who will dominate the Ophir awards?

Sunday is likely to be Reymonde Amsallem’s night, since in addition to the screenplay category, she is nominated twice this year in the Best Actress race, for Seven Blessings and for The Future, in which she plays a police profiler.

One of Israel’s leading actresses, Amsallem has already won two Ophir Awards in the Best Supporting Actress category, for The House on Fin Street and My Lovely Sister, but never for a leading performance, and the Academy voters clearly feel it’s time to honor her.

Her chief competition is likely to be Dana Ivgy for The Other Widow. Ivgy has won three Ophir Awards, two for Best Actress (Or and Zero Motivation) and one for Best Supporting Actress, in Next to Her. She already has more Ophirs than any other actress – and the feeling among voters may be that she has won enough for now.

Two young and wonderful newcomers are also nominated in this category, Oshrat Ingadashat for America and Suzanna Papian for The Monkey House, but I don’t see either of them winning.

Likewise, I don’t think the younger nominated actors, Ido Tako for The Vanishing Soldier and Roy Nik for Home, have much chance of winning the Best Actor award. In this category, the award will likely go to veteran Sasson Gabay for My Daughter My Love.

Gabay is already the most honored Israeli actor, with two previous wins as a lead (The Band’s Visit and Karaoke) and two in the supporting categories (Time for Cherries and Gett) and he seems poised to take home a fifth award.

Three fine performances that did not make the list in this category are Adir Miller’s turn as a vain, forgotten novelist in The Monkey House, Gilad Lederman as a troubled teen in A Room of His Own, and Chancela Mongoza as an asylum seeker in Running on Sand.

The supporting categories will likely go to veterans, too, this year. Beloved actress Tikva Dayan does perhaps the best work of her long career in Seven Blessings. Ezra Dagan’s performance as a Holocaust-survivor grandfather who accompanies his grandson’s class on a trip to Poland was the highlight of the movie, Delegation, and he has a good chance to win. Dror Keren, playing against type as a haredi thug in Home, is also a contender.

But the real story of the Ophirs is the list of the movies that should have been nominated for the top prizes but weren’t.

Three excellent films which did not make the Best Picture cut this year are Avi Nesher’s witty and moving The Monkey House, Matan Yair’s hard-hitting, emotional drama, A Room of His Own, and Ofir Raul Graizer’s elegiac America – although Nesher and Yair are nominated in the Best Director category, and Yair also received a nomination for Best Screenplay. The Academy’s inexplicably shabby treatment of Nesher, who has been one of Israel’s leading directors for decades, but whose movies have received far fewer nominations in major categories than many forgettable films, could be the subject of an entire article. To paraphrase Abba Eban, the Academy never misses an opportunity to snub his fine work and this year is no exception.

WHAT WINS the Ophir Award for Best Movie matters, because the winning film becomes Israel’s official selection for consideration for a Best International Feature Oscar nomination (a category previously known as Best Foreign Language Film). Israel has had 10 nominations without a win in this category, the record for any country. From 2008-2012, four Israeli films received Oscar nods – Beaufort, Waltz with Bashir, Ajami, and Footnote – but none took home the statuette. No Israeli film has made the Oscar shortlist since 2017 – and those four nominations in five years, which seemed to herald a golden age of Israeli cinema, now look more like an aberration.

While of course there is more to the Israeli film industry than participation in the Oscars, the Best International Feature category brings validation, attention, and investment to the industry. We will know in late December if the Academy’s choice this year ends up making the shortlist.

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