Poking Fun, Israeli Style

Spoof: From left to right: Lana Ettinger, Ilan Dar and Ron Shahar star in ‘Israeli Intelligence,’ a 40-minute Israeli comedy that has acquired a cult following.
TOM RIMON
Spoof: From left to right: Lana Ettinger, Ilan Dar and Ron Shahar star in ‘Israeli Intelligence,’ a 40-minute Israeli comedy that has acquired a cult following.

By Nicola Behrman

Published June 30, 2010, issue of July 09, 2010.
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When the world is going to proverbial poop, what do you do? Turn to self-parody, of course.

Every night, before the screening of the film “Israeli Intelligence” at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, there is an official ceremony. A national anthem, perhaps? No. A prayer for peace in the Middle East? Nein. During the prescreening ceremony, audience members are invited to declare how many times they have seen the movie. But “not on TV,” Alon Gur Arye, the film’s director, cries from the stage. “Only in the movie theater.”

The winner that night: a young gentleman who has seen the film 19 times. The crowd cheers. “Why are you encouraging him?” the director asks. And then he hands over his prize — tickets to see the show the following Friday night.

The crowd is encouraging him because this little 40-minute movie-spoof-that-could, which pokes fun at the Mossad and American cinema clichés, has become an Israeli cult classic.

Premiering at the Jerusalem International Film Festival in the drama section (because there is no comedy category), the film was supposed to screen for four weeks at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. But tickets sold out, fans came back, and after a year and a half, when it seemed like the film may be taken off the screen, audience members mounted a petition to keep it going. They succeeded. It has now been playing on a regular basis for three years.

Produced independently while the director was at film school, the movie took four years to make, with the help of 200 volunteers. “Our goal was to make a pilot for a feature film that fits the ‘Naked Gun’ type parody genre that we love,” Gur Arye said.

In the Hebrew-language, English-subtitled film, a hunky rogue Mossad agent is given a super-duper tricky mission and, of course, a beautiful sidekick. Their task is to rescue the abducted American ambassador, who is being held hostage in the fictional state of Sugyra. If they fail, disaster: The annual work holiday trip to camp Olga will be canceled.

Indeed, it is a truly silly Israeli movie. And it’s about to unleash its humor on American soil when it screens at the Action on Film Festival in Los Angeles in July. Given the suggested boycott of Israeli films at the Toronto International Film Festival, and the heightened tension on all sides surrounding the flotilla fiasco, does Gur Arye have any second thoughts about bringing the film to the United States? “There is no connection between the current events and the movie, but in general, I think in times like these, comedies can lighten things up a bit.”


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