The Boy and I are always happy to see the Israeli Film Festival come to town, which we have attended regularly (and increasingly) for the past seven years. We pretty much have to go in blind, and usually there are one or two movies we miss just because they are sold out. So, possibly, we aren’t even seeing the best of the fest, but I think being sold out is more indicative of PR and awards than it is of quality, in Israel as it is in Los Angeles.
The hallmark of these films is that they are different, that they emphasize different aspects of filmmaking, and that they often feature the best of the Middle East but all on low budgets (by American standards). You don’t see much reliance on CGI or Hollywood tropes, and when you do, it’s disastrous. (Not speaking of the IFF here, but the worst Israeli movie we’ve seen, possibly ever, which was at the L.A. Horror Fest!)
Our first movie up was Galis: The Journey To Astra, which is its own beast. “Galis” is an Israeli TV show for kids about, I believe, a summer camp. From what I can tell, it’s about teenage intrigue: Romance, pranks, clueless camp counsellors and that sort of thing. There are elements of this show that are described in odd ways, like one episode capsule describes a character as “going on a quest to find his real mother”. There is a lot of language of mystery, suspense and fantasy used in describing the “TV Show” which, from the pictures, looks to be very standard summer camp fare.
Yet, Galis: The Journey To Astra, seems to go both fantasy and meta, as the lead character is, if I’m not mistaken, playing an actor who plays on the show and refers to himself as the “chosen one” and the center of the universe and what-not. But shortly after alienating every one of his friends, the Earth comes under a Flash Gordon style Eclipse and Our Hero is transported into a parallel world where everyone actually thinks he is the Chosen One.
And, just his luck, it turns out his alternate/parallel self is an even bigger douche than he is, having run off and left his friends five years ago on a quest to kill the Big Bad, from which he never returns, and everyone thinks he’s a traitor.
Oh, the alternate world (which looks a lot like the deserts around Israel) is a dystopic world of vague time orientation and structure where the good guys are being killed by the bad guys, for no apparent reason and to no apparent end. Well, look, it’s a kiddie show. And the movie is cute and fun, but it don’t hang together like a swiss watch or nothin’. No Fury Road, as The Boy would say, though sort of more like a low budget, less mean Hunger Games.
The characterizations are nice, even if the acting comes off a bit rough at times. There’s a love triangle between the three lead actors, and a sort of frustrated romance between the two comic relief characters. (One of whom, Neveh Tzur, is the only one who’s really been on the series for its whole run. The others have less than a season under their belt, but it was the first season, so perhaps they ran off to make this right away.)
So, yeah, the plotting is less than tight, and the low budget really puts a crimp in the dystopic/post-apocalyptic feel, given that there’s only a few baddies at any time, and only a few shots with more than a dozen actors on the good guy side. Ooh, and there’s the fact that a lot of the drama/tension feels exactly like it would if it were in a series about a summer camp, and not one about rebel fighters trying to save the world. Heh.
But our characters all get their character arcs, and it’s a very genial movie about the dangers of being seduced by fame, by narcissism, by revenge, and so on. That’s not a bad thing. We liked it.