TEL AVIV — Oscar is quickly becoming the Holy Grail of the Holy Land.
With the recent foreign language film nod for Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote” — about the relationship between a father and son, and their study of Jewish religious law — Israel now has 10 nominations under its belt — but so far, not a single win. No other country has been nominated so many times only to continually go home empty-handed.
This is Cedar’s second dance with Oscar; his “Beaufort” squeaked into the race in 2007 after Eran Kolirin’s “The Band’s Visit” was disqualified for having too much English dialogue. “Beaufort” lost to Austrian entry “The Counterfeiters.”
In any year, Cedar is perhaps this tiny country’s best hope for the elusive statue. Three of his four feature films have taken the best picture prize at the Ophir Awards, a kudo that automatically qualifies a pic to be Israel’s submission for foreign-lingo Oscar. “Beaufort” was the first Israeli film to be nominated in 24 years, and since then, Israel has enjoyed a nod every year except 2010.
Israel’s noms come as no surprise, says Boaz Hagin, lecturer at the Dept. of Film and Television at Tel Aviv U., because filmmakers here have their eyes on the prize.
“A lot of Israeli films over the past decade were kind of pre-selected to be nominated. They were co-productions with Europe and were often invited to festivals or even made for festivals through (fest)workshops,” Hagin says.
The odds appear stacked against Israel yet again, though, with its biggest competition, Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” — which looks at family’s breakdown in a society torn between the religious and the secular — already having nabbed a cache of awards, including a Golden Globe.
But while politically, Israel and Iran are poised on the brink of war, Israel Film Academy member Yariv Mozer believes the statue will be judged on merit alone.
“Filmmakers everywhere, and especially in Iran and Israel, do not reflect government policies; most of the time it is completely the other way around,” says Mozer, who like most Israelis, has not seen “A Separation,” “It is therefore in our mutual interest not to see the Academy’s competition as political.”
The pressure of coming close to Oscar gold so many times has weighed heavily on Israeli directors and producers, Hagin says, and that pressure has sometimes come at the expense of viewers at home.
“They’re giving the Western viewer what they think the Western viewer wants to see,” he says of Israeli directors. “There are some films that are ignored by Israeli audiences and are very successful in festivals.”
“Waltz With Bashir,” which competed in 2008, was a joint venture with both France and Germany, and “Ajami,” nominated in 2009, was co-produced with Germany. “Footnote,” however, like “Beaufort,” is 100% Israeli.