When 6-foot-2-inch Clint Eastwood greeted me with “Hello, sweetheart!” he made my day! We were at the December 1 Museum of the Moving Image Salutes Clint Eastwood gala following an advance screening of his latest opus, “Invictus,” at the Paris Theatre. Award presenters Kevin Bacon, Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Marcia Gay Harden and Hilary Swank praised Eastwood as both director and an actor. “He is master of all aspects of the craft,” museum curator David Schwartz said. Freeman, who portrays** Nelson Mandela** in the film, said, “Instead of starting a civil war after his release from prison, [Mandela] used a creative solution — rugby.” A pink-cheeked Eastwood responded: “You saw me ‘make my day’ and [make] ‘[A] Fistful of Dollars’ — opera at its worst — but [‘Invictus’] is relevant to what is going on in the world.” Looking fit at 79, Eastwood vowed: “You have made this senior citizen very happy tonight.… I have no intention of retiring until they throw me out. Don’t cut me short.” The 400-plus strong standing ovation at 593 Park Avenue included museum chairman Herbert Schlosser, museum director Rochelle Slovin, Warner Bros. Entertainment Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer, Universal Studios President and CEO Ron Meyer, fashion model and designer Lauren Bush (daughter of Neil and Sharon Bush) and fashion icon Ralph Lauren.
Following clips from such Eastwood classics as 1964’s “A Fistful of Dollars,” (which Eastwood did not direct), 1992’s “Unforgiven” and 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby,” Harden said, “[As a director] Clint lets everyone go home early on Friday so [that they] can be with their families…. Bacon, whose wife, Kyra Sedgwick, was in the room, announced: “My wife loves Clint Eastwood. I guess every man in this room has a wife who loves Clint Eastwood. What’s it like to work for him? He has great respect for the cast and crew. Hey, this guy is working on his 32nd feature!”
“I was raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I carry a proud tradition of immigration — a testament to the kindness of strangers and the possibility of a free society,” said New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, recipient of American Friends of the Open University of Israel’s Yigal Allon Award, at AFOUI’s December 1 dinner at The Pierre. “My father held three jobs. My mother, two. My grandmother, who did not speak English but spoke Yiddish and German, used to carry my book bag and sit with me as I did my homework. My father said, ‘Mamele, in our tradition, education is everything!’” An OUI Zedek Award recipient, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, said, “I accept the award on behalf of New York City’s 50,000 members of the Police Department….There has been a close relationship between New York and Israel after 9/11…. We learned that no one is an island — no police department, no city, no country — our destiny is intertwined.” Kelly informed: “We have two David Cohens on our staff: deputy commissioner for labor policy and deputy commissioner of security for New York City.”
AFOUI’s president, Ingeborg Rennert, and the organization’s chairman, Malcolm Thomson, jointly hosted the event. Open University, with its 45,000 students — 90% of whom are soldiers — is the largest university in Israel. It publishes 1 million books per year and serves 6,000 students in the Former Soviet Union.
The December 5-13 Israel Film Festival gala, held in Manhattan at the School of Visual Arts Theatre, led off with the presentation of awards from the IsraFest Foundation: the Israel Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award went to actor Elliott Gould; the IFF Visionary Award, to KINO International founder Donald Krim; the IFF Achievement in Cinema Award, to writer/director Paul Schrader, whose credits include Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and “American Gigolo.” Then the audience settled in for what may become one of Israel’s hottest film exports, “A Matter of Size,” whose blurb — “a touching, lighthearted comedy about a group of four ‘very’ overweight friends” — does not do justice to the many delights this film offers, starting with the Hebrew letters of the credits in acrobatic flourishes and with Hebrew-speaking restaurant owner Togo Igawa (“The Last Samurai,” “Memories of a Geisha”). This film proves that even if you hit the outer limits of weight scales, a romp in the back seat of a car is still a joyful possibility. Watch for the film’s national release in March 2010.
“Kirot,” directed and written by Danny Lerner, stars the stunning Olga Kurylenko as Galia, who attempts to escape her life as a Tel Aviv sex slave and be reunited with the daughter she left behind in Ukraine. She is befriended by a neighbor who is brutalized by her husband regularly, as is Galia by the Israeli-Russian mobsters. Think “Goodfellas.” To evade her assassins and win her freedom, Galia, in homage to the 1990 French film “La Femme Nikita” (remade in the United States in 1993, titled “Point of No Return”), becomes a female version of the Terminator. Brutal and gory, it is hard to believe that in terrorism-alert Israel, a gunfire assault aboard a busload of passengers, plus attempted carnage in a bus terminal, elicits no response from either police or the military.
Then there is Avraham Kushnir’s “Bruriah,” a film that addresses the suppressed intellectual capacity of women (deemed “light minded”). Bruriah (played by Hadar Galron, who, with or without her sheytl (wig), bears an uncanny resemblance to French actress Juliette Binoche), bears the same name as a woman in a book that her father wrote about (and that was burned), and for which the family was excommunicated from the community.
The film’s subtext is that even in the religious Jerusalem enclave where Bruria and her family live, eroticism is alive and well.
“In 1909, 66 families stood on the Old City of Jaffa — each family’s name [inscribed] on a white shell. And so was Tel Aviv born,” said actor Mike Burstyn, host of the November 16 Tel Aviv Centennial Celebration Dinner at the Grand Hyatt New York. Following a beautiful video montage of the evolution of the city, its mayor, Ron Huldai, noted: “Last year, The New York Times dubbed Tel Aviv ‘the coolest city in the world.’” Burstyn, whose family left the Bronx for Tel Aviv when he was a youngster, recalled “architecture like that of Paris, more culture than most European cities; Yiddish fun ale zaytn (all around you), seven concerts, art galleries.” Honorees were Tel Aviv supporters Harvey Krueger, vice chairman of Barclays Capital, and Josh Weston, honorary chairman of Automatic Data Processing, Inc. The keynote speaker was Ambassador Alon Pinkas, former consul general of Israel in New York.
My personal connection with Tel Aviv is via my late father-in law, Samuel Leon, who was born in Jaffa in 1897. His great-grandfather left Hamburg, Germany, and arrived in Jaffa in the early 1840s. He spent his first night in an inn run by the only Jew in Jaffa, whose 16-year-old daughter he later married. A melamed (teacher), he was also a mohel who circumcised both Jews and Arabs. Family lore has it that, in appreciation, the Arabs offered to pay him with land, but he refused, claiming that being a mohel was a mitzvah — not a paid profession. When my husband, Joe, and I first visited Tel Aviv in 1973, the family took us to see the original house in Jaffa, which has since been demolished.