SOPHIA LOREN

SOPHIA LOREN

We hooked up our new Amazon Fire TV gizmo and got a little giddy with the voice-recognition remote. One of the names we blurted into the device was “Sophia Loren” and that led us to watch Judith a 1965 example of a wasted opportunity.The cast also included Jack Hawkins and Peter Finch.

This project had possibilities. The story is set in Palestine shortly before the British pulled out of what was to become the State of Israel. A ragtag military organization called the Haganah — forerunner of the Jewish Defense Force — is anticipating more than the usual hostility from surrounding Arabs and is particularly concerned about a former German tank commander, Gustav Schiller, who is providing the Arabs with tactical training. In order to find the elusive Schiller, the Haganah leadership recruits the Nazi’s former wife, Judith, a Jew who has her own reasons for wanting to track him down.

At the beginning of the film we watch as Judith is smuggled into a sea port in a large wooden crate along with another woman and a piece of heavy machinery. When the crate is opened we already see the flaw in this movie: one of the women is dead — not a surprising outcome, considering the mode of transport — but Judith is tastefully disheveled but not so much so that she isn’t ravishing in eye makeup and lipstick as befitted a mid-1960s sex goddess.

PETER FINCH and SOPHIA LOREN

PETER FINCH and SOPHIA LOREN

Judith is hustled off to the kibbutz where an Haganah unit is housed under the supervision of Aaron Stein, played by Finch. The back story is that Schiller and Judith had a son together, but that Schiller ultimately abandoned his wife and took their child. Judith wound up in the Dachau concentration camp and was forced to have sex with German officers.

Judith doesn’t know where Schiller is, but the Haganah leaders figure that she could identify him if they did locate him. Aaron nudges the impatient Judith into approaching the local British Army commander, a Major Lawton (Jack Hawkins) into letting her see the military file on Schiller. Lawton, who is an upright chap, is nevertheless no match for Judith’s charms, and he hands over the file, which indicates that Schiller’s last known address was Damascus.Stein and another Haganah member take Judith to Damascus where they find Schiller. Judith double-crosses Haganah by shooting Schiller, but somehow the men smuggle the wounded man back to Palestine.While the kibbutz is being attached by Arab forces, Schiller tells Judith about the plan of attack, but he is killed by Arab bombs before telling her where their son has gone.

JACK HAWKINS and SOPHIA LOREN

JACK HAWKINS and SOPHIA LOREN


There probably was enough to go on here to make a decent movie. Finch and Hawkins turned in good performances, and the gritty location shots created a credible image of the environment in which such events would have taken place in 1948. But the film is often reduced to absurdity because of the seemingly irresistible opportunity to exploit Sophia Loren’s physical charms.

Advertisements
NIKOL LEIDMAN and SARAH ADLER

NIKOL LEIDMAN and SARAH ADLER

Sometimes a mesmerizing movie is one that leaves you uncertain as to what you just saw. Jellyfish (Meduzot in Hebrew) — a 2007 Israeli film, fits that category.

This dramatic comedy, or is it comic drama — see what I mean? — is based on a story by Shira Geffen. The subject matter is the frustrating lives of three women living in Tel Aviv. On the one hand, they are all lonely and downbeat — “resigned” might be the best term — but at the same time there is a spark of humor and warmth in the connections among them.

Batya, played by Sarah Adler, works somewhat ineptly in a dead-end job at a banquet hall. She is fired by her boorish boss, thrown over by her boyfriend, and neglected by her high-profile mother. Not unexpectedly, Batya isn’t in a good mood most of time, but her life is charmed when she encounters a mysterious mute little girl (Nikol Leidman) who wades out of the sea with a flotation tube around her waist and no other visible means of support, notably parents.

NIKOL LEIDMAN

NIKOL LEIDMAN

Things don’t go much better for  Keren, played by Noa Knoller, a newly married bride whose Caribbean honeymoon is derailed before it starts when she breaks her leg while trying to climb out of a locked bathroom stall. And Joy (Ma-nenita De LaTorre), an immigrant who cares for a disagreeable old woman, is lonely for the son she left behind in the Philippines.

Clearly, a strain of melancholy runs through this film, but in the end it is not a downer. While it portrays the weightiness of everyday urban life, it also explores the undramatic but positive things that can touch people when their lives intersect.

Anwar el-Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menachem Begin at the signing of the Camp David Peace Treaty in 1979.

When I list the countries I have visited, I don’t include Egypt. In a certain sense, though, I have been to what is now Egypt, and under unique circumstances. My visit, which was unplanned, occurred while I was on a tour of Israel with a group of American journalists. The trip was planned well in advance, so it was a coincidence that I was in Tel Aviv on March 26, 1979, the day the Camp David peace treaty was concluded between Israel and Egypt.

ANWAR el-SADAT

The itinerary for our trip included a stop at Yamit, a town the Israelis had built in the Sinai Peninsula, which had been seized from Egypt during the Six-Day War in 1967. One of the provisions of the treaty was that Israel would return the Sinai to Egypt, and Egypt would leave it demilitarized. Another result of that treaty – seemly lost in the clamor surrounding the popular uprising in Egypt – was U.S. political and military support for Egypt. On the day we were supposed to go to Yamit, our guides told us the trip was cancelled because the residents of the town – who objected to the treaty, and especially to the withdrawal of settlers from the Sinai – had blockaded the highway. We were surprised that we had to explain this, but we told the guides that if the settlers were blockading the highway, that was where we wanted to be.

MENACHEM BEGIN

So the bus took us as far as we could go, and we got out and talked to the angry settlers, who had piled furniture and tires and other obstructions across the highway. We talked to the settlers about their determination to stay in Yamit; when we returned to the bus, the driver told us he knew how to get to the town without using that highway. That turned out to be true, although the bus got stuck in the desert sand at one point, and we all had to get out and push. Yamit was virtually deserted, and it was an odd experience to walk through that town with virtually no human life in sight. We did encounter one elderly, gregarious man who identified himself as the “unofficial mayor” and explained the layout of the town and his own disappointment about Israel’s decision. Yamit was still in Israeli hands on that day. It was evacuated in April 1982, and some of the settlers had to be routed from their homes and carried away by the Israeli Defense Forces. The town, which was a beautiful little settlement of about 2,500 people, was demolished before the peninsula was ceded to Egypt.

JIMMY CARTER

The Camp David Treaty was brokered by President Jimmy Carter and signed by Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Sadat and Begin both were excoriated in some quarters, and the treaty certainly was a factor in the murder of Sadat in 1981. Egypt was also suspended from the Arab League for a while.

 Whatever else one may think of the treaty, it has prevented hostilities between Israel and Egypt for more than 30 years, during most of which Hosni Mubarek has been president of Egypt. The future of that treaty – and the likelihood of renewed belligerence between the two countries – is one of the many things at stake in the uprising against Mubarek’s regime.

Anwar el-Sadat with Ronald Reagan in 1981

When the treaty was signed in Washington, D.C., the ritual was televised live on an oversized screen in a public square in Tel Aviv. There were lights and music and dancing, but the joy seemed largely orchestrated. When my colleagues and I wandered just a few blocks from that square, the city was quiet. A couple of us stopped in a bar operated by a Yemeni woman named Chanita Madmoni. We sat next to two old Israelis – one Greek, the other Rumanian. We told them they didn’t seem excited about the “shalom.” They’d rather have peace than war, they said, but they weren’t convinced it would last. Judging by their ages, I’d venture that it lasted longer than they did.