No Escape: Going to the Flicks, Israeli-style


By Melchett Mike
December 5, 2009
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No less than the virtually de rigeur pushing into queues here, the saving of spaces in them with unmanned shopping trolleys, and the continual, blatant invasions of personal space – most infuriatingly, the crowding and looking-over-shoulders at ATMs – the lack of decorum in Israel's cinemas is a phenomenon that no ex-pat Englishman can ever get used to.

No, going to the movies in this country is not, as in others, an "escape" . . . merely a reminder.

Talking loudly during films is seemingly compulsory here. So, whenever I have the opportunity of selecting my seat once inside the auditorium, my decision is based not on its position in relation to the screen, but its proximity to clusters of Israeli women already seated . . . and talking.

In fact, tell an Israeli about the release of the first "talkie" – The Jazz Singer, in 1927 – and he will most probably enquire as to why talking was not allowed in cinemas before that.

Last Saturday, as the last leg of an unusually agreeable first date, I took the lucky girl – who cannot have failed to have been impressed by my sophistication – to see Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque (local women being the fickle, unpredictable creatures that they are, however, I would not recommend the purchase of any new hats just yet . . . though Fanny on a first date might, perhaps, be a good sign).

Despite my success in ignoring the proclivity of the projectionist to, without warning, cut from the middle of one scene to some unrelated point in the next – a long-favoured pastime amongst Israeli projectionists – I could do little about the loud belching from the left side of the auditorium, which peppered the three-hour epic.

And my date, who had seemed a rather demure soul until that point, earned numerous brownie points for her savage verbal assault on the bloke in the row behind us, who had forgotten to turn off his mobile phone.

Whilst I am not generally prone to acts of violence, the possibility that I might, one day, twat someone in the cinema here cannot be altogether ruled out.

It is not just the incessant loud chatter that so infuriates, but the seeming deep-seated need of Israeli cinemagoers to commentate on what they are seeing. During Saturday's film, on every occasion that the striking Emilie Ekdahl character appeared on screen, an elderly woman seated behind us seemed to consider it incumbent upon her to repeat "Eizeh einayim!" ("What eyes!")

And, as if they don't see enough Jews here, the entry of any Jewish character (Isak Jacobi on Saturday) or theme – however remote – into a film is always the cue for an excited buzz amongst Israeli audiences. Indeed, the always animated reaction to a movie's protagonists and plot often renders the Israeli cinematic experience more akin to pantomime.

Audience reactions here are also markedly unpredictable. I have sat through terribly sad films that have provoked mirth, and hilarious ones which have passed without so much as a titter. This owes rather less to the language gap (in the case of foreign films) than to the unusual – or, to be less kind, f*cked-up – Israeli psyche.

I must also give mention to the old boy, a Cinematheque regular, who would appear to have somewhat misconstrued the concept of home cinema, barking out his temperature comfort requirements to the usher – and to the entire cinema – in mid-movie. I don't know why they don't just give him the air conditioner remote control and have done with!

And the extremes of Israeli behaviour do not end in the cinema auditorium. At a reception to mark the opening of last year's British Film Festival (also at the Cinematheque), in the presence of the British Ambassador to Israel, I cringed in horror as the refreshments were gobbled up – and even stuffed into pockets – in a display that would not even be witnessed at a Hendon Adass kiddush.

The Israeli cinematic experience is a microcosm of life here. From the discomfort of your seat, you can view – and in 3D – all the chutzpah, bad manners and neuroses that Israelis have to offer . . . and, for just 35 shekels, it constitutes extraordinarily good value!

[For more no-punches-pulled blogging by an Englishman in TA, go to http://melchettmike.wordpress.com/]

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