Israel not included in Cannes Film Festival amid complex history

Cannes prepares for the 77th festival and this year, Israel will not compete for the prestigious award; over the years, Israel has had its ups and downs with the competition, even when Israel won

Amir Kaminer|
At the 77th Cannes Film Festival, which will officially kick off on Tuesday, there will not be a single Israeli representative. This is obviously unfortunate, outrageous, and reminds us of better days. Overall, only 18 Israeli films were included in the main competition, competing for the highest prize awarded to the best film (now called the Palme d'Or).
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קאן ממעוף הרחפן
קאן ממעוף הרחפן
(Photo: Shutterstock )
Some of them even won important awards. In general, the relationship between the Cannes Film Festival and Israeli film production is complex, sometimes charged, and has had ups and downs. There were two glory periods, 25 years apart from each other: the 1960s to the mid-1970s, to be featured in this article, and from 1999 to 2021, to be covered in a separate article. In these articles, we have grouped together all the Israeli films that entered the main competition, the achievements and disappointments, the anecdotes and surprises, the juicy stories, and the scandals.

Hill 24 Doesn't Answer (1955)

In the chronicles of Cannes, a place of honor is reserved for the 8th film festival, held at the end of April 1955, where the first "Palme d'Or" was awarded to the best picture ("Marty", directed by Delbert Mann and starred by Ernest Borgnine, was the winner). But this is not the only history recorded in that edition - it was the first time that an Israeli feature film entered into the official competition: "Hill 24 Doesn't Answer", the large, invested, and pioneering production of the Israeli film industry, which was created under particularly difficult conditions, competing with films of great directors such as Elia Kazan, Edward Dmytryk, Otto Preminger, Carol Reed and Vittorio De Sica.
"Hill 24 Doesn't Answer", directed by the British Thorold Dickinson and based on a story written by Zvi Kolitz, takes place during the British Mandate and Israel's War of Independence. The film opens in 1948 on "Hill 24", which dominates the highway into Jerusalem. UN observers try to decide who it belongs to and find there four dead soldiers.
One of them is an Irish man who served in the British Mandate Police, fell in love with the Haifa teacher Miriam Miszrahi (Haya Harareet), and because of that love chose to join the Israeli forces. "'Hill 24 Doesn't Answer" was very successful at the Cannes Film Festival, both artistically and business-wise", stated the Israeli newspaper "Davar" in May 1955, "Jack Padua, one of the producers, says that the film was more appreciated at Cannes than it was in Israel.
During its screening at the festival, people from all over the world were seen in the hall, and two more screenings were added at the request of the festival audience." The jury presided over by the French playwright and film director Marcel Pagnol was enthusiastic about the performance of Harareet, who passed away recently, stating that she was praiseworthy.
The Israeli newspaper "Yedioth Ahronoth" praised Harareet and stated on its May 12 1955 front page that "several jury's decisions were vigorously protested. However, the commendation of Haya Harareet was accepted with general enthusiasm."
As far as Harareet was concerned, the visit and the winning on the French Riviera paid off: during the festival, she ran into the director William Wyler, who was impressed with her and a few years later cast her in the main female role of "Ben Hur", which won 11 Oscars.

I Like Mike (1961)

The 14th Cannes Film Festival is mainly remembered for the tie recorded between two movies that jointly won the Palme d'Or - the masterful "Viridiana" of the Spanish-Mexican Luis Buñuel and the "Une Aussi Longue Absence" ("Winter Will Bring Him Back") of the French Henri Colpi. But the Israelis were interested in the film "I Like Mike" by Peter Frye which entered the official competition.
Mira Avrech, Yedioth Ahronoth's mythological reporter, was sent to cover the exploits of the Israeli delegation on the French Riviera and, among other things, described the concerns of David Kataribas, Israel's cultural attaché in France, who wondered how the film could be advertised to the general public.
"I like Mike, but I have to make sure that everyone will like Mike. There is no advertisement. Hardly anyone knows about the existence of the film. There are no pictures. There is no special booth for Israel like the other countries. There are no good advertisement brochures," he said.
"I Like Mike" based on Aharon Megged's play is a satire on the American dream fantasized by many Israelis in the 1950s and 1960s. The plot follows the adventures of Mike Abrahams (Seymour Gitin), a Jewish Texas tycoon visiting Israel and the adventures he experiences here.
Director Frye came to the premiere in Cannes, and at a press conference in honor of the screening he said that: "The world has seen more than enough Jews crying. We want to give some peace of mind to our audience. We don't need mercy. We have become a people, like any other people. Christians can visit our country without worry, we are not cannibals."
Jay Ripa, the correspondent of the American news agency AP who covered the festival, summarized the reactions to "I Like Mike": "The Israeli comedy was a pleasant surprise to the audience, who thought it was a cheerful film. The critics were less enthusiastic, and they defined the film as mediocre."

Joseph the Dreamer (1962)

In 1962, long before "Waltz with Bashir", Israel sent an animated film to Cannes: " Joseph the Dreamer " - the first full-length animated film ever produced in Israel in particular and the Middle East in general. The film by Yoram and Alina Gross uses rubber puppets hand-made by John Byle and was created with a reduced budget and with the help of a minimal crew, using a storage room as a studio.
The script written by Gross' brother, Nathan, was based on the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors - Joseph was preferred by his father Jacob, as a result, his brothers were jealous of him; he was betrayed, sold to a company of merchants, arrived in Egypt, and eventually interpreted Pharaoh's dream and was appointed Minister of Supply. "Joseph the Dreamer" also demonstrated the dreams interpreted by Joseph with the help of creative effects.
The film competed for the Palme d'Or against films of senior directors such as Sidney Lumet, Michelangelo Antonioni, Agnès Varda, Otto Preminger, and Satyajit Ray. And despite the standard score of Cannes and the good reviews, the Israeli audience did not like "Joseph the Dreamer", so the film was screened for only two weeks in Tel Aviv. Gross got into debt and six years after Cannes, he relocated to Australia, where he made an impressive career in animation.

Three Days and a Child (1967)

In 1967, while the State of Israel was busy preparing for the Six Day War, the Israeli delegation participated in the 20th Cannes Film Festival, with "Three Days and a Child" – an adaptation by Uri Zohar of a short story by A. B. Yehoshua. The plot follows a math teacher (Oded Kotler) who lives in Jerusalem and is asked by his ex from the kibbutz to babysit her little son (Shai Oshorov) for three days.
Thanks to his strong, yet sensitive performance, Oded Kotler received the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival, but he was not present at the ceremony to collect the statuette because he returned to Israel immediately after the premiere. On his way to a show at the Haifa Theater, he was informed of the enormous achievement.
"We stopped to freshen up at a café at a gas station in Binyamina," recalled Kotler. "Alex Ansky, who acted with me in the play, stayed in the cab and listened to the news broadcast. Suddenly we heard Alex shouting: Oded, Oded, did you hear the news? You won the Best Actor's Award at Cannes.' All the people sitting at the café made a toast for the winning.
The audience in Haifa theatre was waiting for me with flowers. A few days later, Uri Zohar and the producer Amatsia Hiuni returned to Israel and brought me the certificate, a small statuette, and gold cufflinks. The win lifted the spirits in Israel in an indescribable way."
Kotler believes the judges recognized his character in "Three Days and a Child" as the anti-stereotypical Israeli. "They were surprised by a portrait of a new and complex Israeli man, who behaves differently than expected and does not portray a soldier, especially in light of the security situation at the time."

Tevye and His Seven Daughters (1968)

On May 3, 1968, student strikes broke out in Paris in a number of universities and high schools. The demonstrators demanded the establishment of a new order. Charles de Gaulle's administration failed to suppress the riots, which eventually led to a general strike across France that involved about 10 million workers, demanding significant wage gains. A week after that turmoil, the 21st Cannes Film Festival started.
In the official competition, films by Alain Resnais, Jiří Menzel, Miloš Forman, Albert Finney and Richard Lester were due to compete, and against them was listed "Tevye and His Seven Daughters" by Menahem Golan, based on stories by Sholem Aleichem about a poor Russian Jew named Tevye, starred by Shmuel Rodensky and Betty Segal.
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פסטיבל קאן 1968
פסטיבל קאן 1968
Cannes festival in 1968
At the airport, before boarding the plane, Yedioth Ahronoth reporter Emanuel Bar-Kedama asked Golan what he thought his film's chances were in winning one of the awards. Golan replied: "The selection of the festival is enormous. It's hard for me to say. My film is an epic of a man and of an era.
It illuminates an entire period in the life of the Jewish people - the transition between the dark exile and the beginning of the national awakening of the Jewish people, the pre-dawn period of Zionism. My Tevye eventually immigrated to Israel."
The festival was marked by student rebellion and strikes, and in the shadow of calls to cancel it. The premiere of "Tevye and His Seven Daughters " was supposed to take place on May 20, but the day before the happy event, the festival president Robert Favre Le Bret voted unanimously to cancel this edition, both as a solidarity, but also out of fear of demonstrations, riots, and fights.
And so, this festival edition entered the pages of history as the only one that did not come to an end and not award any prize. Of the 28 films that were selected to compete, only 11 were screened. All the other 17 were not allowed to be presented, including "Tevye and His Seven Daughters".
"Everything suddenly fell apart, and after the premiere was canceled, of course, Menahem and the actors were disappointed," said at the time Judith Solé, who was among the cast of "Tevye and His Seven Daughters". "Elizabeth Taylor left Cannes in panic, and in general everyone ran away.
I was also quite frightened and didn't know what to do. Menahem Golan gave each of his actors a hundred dollars and said: 'Fly wherever you want, and we go our separate ways.' I went to Paris, and from the window of the hotel I saw all the crowds of protesters, it was simply amazing."

Siege (Matzor) (1969)

When I once asked Gila Almagor to choose the best film role she had done, she chose Tamar, an IDF war widow who mourns the passing of her husband and has to confront the scrutiny of society in "Matzor" by director Gilberto Tofano, which competed for the "Palme d'Or" in 1969.
"This is a very feminist film - at a time when movies involved mainly macho men and guys, suddenly they are making a movie about a woman, a young widow, who confronts a male environment and does what she pleases," Almagor said.
"Everyone tries to constrain and protect her out of goodwill, and she insists on doing things her own way. This film has a very important statement, and the restrained character is very impressive. 'Matzor' was also a family production - the idea for the story was mine and I was involved in writing the script, and my husband Yaakov Agmon produced this wonderful film," she added.
Almagor was nominated for the Cannes Film Festival's Best Actress Award. "They even brought me back from Israel for the ceremony to receive the award. They flew me in very quickly, and I didn't even have a suitable dress," Almagor told Yedioth Ahronoth.
"And when we arrived, the man at the entrance to the hall said: 'Sit back, don't worry. In a moment you will go up to receive the award.' Then came the announcement: 'The winning of the best actress goes to Vanessa Redgrave.' Since then, I have been afraid to go near Cannes. I was traumatized," she said.
"The award went to Redgrave because the Soviet judge said: "Over my dead body an award will be given to an Israeli actress". I received telegrams of apology from the other judges, including the legendary director Luchino Visconti who headed the jury, and I still have them to this day," she added.

The Dreamer (1970)

Already in his debut film "The Dreamer", director Dan Wolman managed to enter into the official competition. The movie, which was filmed in the ancient city of Safed and its alleys, dealt with a young, reticent, and aloof handyman (Tuvia Tavi) who works at an Israeli retirement home and develops an affection for an older woman (Berta Litwina) - whom he usually draws until a younger woman (Leora Rivlin) bursts into his life.
The Israeli delegation to Cannes included the mayor of Safed, Meir Meivar, who was shocked by a French actress who stood on a table in the middle of a festive meal and got undressed. "The shocked Mr. Meivar was even more shocked, when the young lady took a bucket hat – which was distributed by the Israeli delegation - and covered the front of her body," reported Ziva Yariv, Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent.
"Afterwards, Mr. Meiver noted with satisfaction that 'this kind of thing could never be happening in Safed." Yariv also talked about the warm relationship that developed between the Israeli filmmakers and their Egyptian colleagues, despite the War of Attrition that was occurring at that time. "There are already encouraging signs for direct negotiations between them, without preconditions. Maybe peace will come out of Cannes," Yariv expressed her hope.
The big winner of Cannes 1970 was the anti-war satire "M*A*S*H" directed by Robert Altman. "The Dreamer" did not win any awards, "despite the hopes of all the Israelis here, who believed, until the last moment, that the elderly actress Berta Litwina would win one of the awards," Yariv wrote.
She also stated that "director Dan Wolman's reaction was remarkably courageous when he was informed of the results of the festival" and the fact that his film did not win. "'I think the jury's choice was justified," Wolman said at the time. "'The Dreamer' does not meet the standard of the festival films. It is a modest film with a small budget, made under difficult conditions."

I Love You Rosa (1972)

"Rosa conquered Cannes," stated a headline in Yedioth Ahronoth in May 1972. Indeed, "I Love You Rosa", by Moshe Mizrahi tells the story of Rosa (Michal Bat-Adam, the director's partner) - a recent widow in Jerusalem at the end of the 19th century, who according to Jewish religious law should marry her late husband's brother, however, he is only 11 years old - was well received by both the audience and some of the international critics at Cannes.
The film was praised, among other things, as "A milestone", "Excellent", "Moshe Mizrahi justifies the tradition of Cannes to discover new great talents", "The story seems local, but it is universal." The festival also embraced the cast. "The boy, played by Gabi Otterman, is constantly photographed with the indifference of a professional movie star," wrote Bar-Kedma. "Michal is beautiful and courteous, unlike Cannes' other female stars. She is frequently asked to be interviewed," he added.
Here in Israel, there were hopes that Bat-Adam, who later became a director and winner of the Israel Prize, would win the award for the best actress, but it was the British Susannah York who eventually received the statuette.

Daughters, Daughters (1974)

After many years in which an Israeli judging committee determined which film will be sent to Cannes, in 1974 the method changed and the Israeli producers were asked to send their selection to the Cannes judging committee, which decided whether one of them deserved to be included in the competition.
Of all the Israeli films sent in 1974, the French committee chose "Daughters, Daughters" (Abu el-Banat), directed by Moshé Mizrahi, about a rich and respectable man (Shaike Ophir) from Jerusalem, a father of nine daughters who longs for a male child, and consults magicians to remove the curse.
The festival was held a few months after the Yom Kippur War and as far as Mizrahi was concerned, the film's entry to Cannes was compensation for the disappointment he had experienced with the release of the film in Israel, which was about a week before the outbreak of the war and had to be pulled earlier than expected.
Idan Pe'er, a Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent revealed that "'Daughters, Daughters' was added to the Cannes festival at such a late stage so it was not included in some of the official publications." One of the newspapers took the trouble to explain that the Israeli absence from the publications should not be interpreted as a "political act against Israel." Pe'er concluded sarcastically: "Mizrahi's film is not the best thing he has done so far."
Mizrahi, for his part, said that "the screening of the film was accompanied by loud applause." The viewers at Cannes did like "Daughters, Daughters" and gave it the audience award. In August 1974, Mizrahi returned the film to screens in Israel, but was unable to reproduce the success. "I guess Israel changed after the war and it was no longer urgent for people to go to the cinema and watch movies," explained the disappointed Mizrahi.
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