2019 Ophir Award nominations for Israeli film prizes announced

The movie nominations for the Ophir Awards, the prizes of the Israel Academy for Film and Television, were announced Monday and the list features some strong contenders, as well as curious omissions.

The nominees for Best Picture are Michal Aviad’s Working Woman, a drama about workplace sexual harassment; Eliran Malka’s The Unorthodox, a fictionalized account of the founding of the Shas Party, which opened last year’s Jerusalem Film Festival; Yaron Zilberman’s Incitement (Yamim Noraim), the story of the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin told from the point of view of Yigal Amir, his murderer, which is already generating controversy prior to its release; Yaron Shani’s Love Trilogy: Chained, a look at the life of an increasingly desperate police officer; and Sameh Zoabi’s Tel Aviv on Fire, a comedy about an Arab soap opera writer. The big omission was Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms, an artsy look at an alienated Israeli in Paris, which won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival last winter.

Turning to the Best Director category, things really get confusing. As any awards-watcher can tell you, if a movie doesn’t get a Best Director nod as well as Best Picture nomination, it’s not likely to win. And the directors of only two of the Best Picture nominees, Malka for The Unorthodox and Shani for Love Trilogy: Chained, are nominated here. Nadav Lapid is nominated for Synonyms as are the directors of two other films, Gur Bentwich for Peaches and Cream, which will have its premiere at the Jerusalem Film Festival next week, and Erez Tadmor for Art of Waiting, a movie based on the struggles he and his wife went through undergoing fertility treatments to conceive a baby.

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Three of the Best Picture nominees also got a script nod: Working Woman (Aviad, Sharon Azulay Eyal and Michal Vinik), The Unorthodox (Malka) and Tel Aviv on Fire (Zoabi). The other nominees in this category are Geula, aka Redemption (Yossi Madmoni, Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov and Erez Kav-El); The Dive, which won the top prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival (Yona Rozenkier); and Peaches and Cream (Bentwich).

To say there is no clear front-runner is an understatement.

In the Best Actor category, the nominees are Tom Mercier as a troubled young man in Synonyms; Yehuda Nahari Halevi, who plays Yigal Amir in Incitement; Moshe Folkenflick as a rock star who has become ultra-Orthodox in Geula; Eran Naim as a policeman in Love Trilogy: Chained; and Shuli Rand as a reluctant political organizer in The Unorthodox. Rand has won the Ophir twice for Best Actor, in 1992 for Life According to Agfa and in 2004 for Ushpizin. The glaring omission here is Kais Nashif for Tel Aviv on Fire. Nashif won the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival in the Horizons category.

In the Best Actress category, the nominees are Hani Furstenberg for her performance in English as a housewife threatened by the supernatural in The Golem; Liron Ben-Shlush, who plays a woman struggling to overcome sexual abuse in Working Woman; Maria Belkin as a former Soviet star actress in Golden Voices; Neta Elkayam for Mami, a reworking of a rock opera; and Nelly Tagar as a young woman trying to get pregnant in Art of Waiting.

The winner of the Best Picture Award will go on to become Israel’s official selection for consideration for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination. Israel has never won an Oscar in this category, although it has been nominated 10 times.

The Ophirs will be awarded in Kfar Saba on September 22, in a ceremony that will be broadcast on Kan 11, aka Channel One.

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