Academic journal article Shofar

The National and the Popular in Israeli Cinema

Academic journal article Shofar

The National and the Popular in Israeli Cinema

Article excerpt

The article examines Israeli cinema as a critical participant in the local drama of national ideology and national identity. Israeli filmmakers have engaged in enunciating the national culture, in the context of the medium's history, political ideologies, and the tension between high art and popular culture. The historical review of Israeli films shows dramatic changes over the years from nationalistic propaganda to radical critique and post-Zionism. Israeli cinema appears now to seek a constructive and fruitful dialogue with viewers. In the recent wave of popular films, the national ideology is more conscious of its past mistakes and inherent deficiencies; its presentation of national identity is less narrow and more open to alternative types, thereby suggesting new vistas of national culture.

The recent revival of the ideology of nationalism and the preoccupation with the subject of national identity has led to new attention to national cinemas. The concept at "national cinema" has become a category of reference in popular discourse and a critical concept similar to the status of auteur, genre, or gender in the analyses of films. National cinemas are no longer regarded as the phenomenon of developing countries, which tend to engage in local, exotic themes, reflecting specific-and marginalized-cultures in relation to the works of leading film artists and the centers of film production in Europe and Hollywood.1 Rather, in the past two decades, there have been numerous publications on the national dimension in European cinemas, or studies of American cinema as a national cinema. In Film Nation: Hollywood Looks at U.S. History, Robert Burgoyne makes the point that "[i]n its range and coverage of the held of national imaginings, the Hollywood cinema is in many ways an unparalleled expression of national culture, one that has molded the self-image of the nation in pervasive and explicit ways."2 And Susan Hayward published French National Cinema, with an exemplary introduction that states: "In the writing of a national cinema there are two fundamental yet crucial axes of reflection to be considered. First, how is the national enunciated? In other words, what are the texts and what meanings do they mobilise? And, second, how to enunciate the national? That is, what typologies must be traced into a cartography of the national?"3

The important input of the new critical discourse of national cinema is that it is not simply a study of how filmmaking reflects a specific ideology or serves as an agent of that ideology. Rather, films gain special cultural meaning and added value through their engagement with the explicit concerns of their local audience and the deeper layers of collective fears and desires that inform the drama of national identity. My paper will examine Israeli cinema as a critical participant in the local drama of national ideology and national identity, considering the content and forms of the films along with their social and cultural position in the public discourse. The historical review of Israeli films in terms of their enunciation of the national will show a dramatic narrative of significant changes over the years from a nationalistic propaganda to radical critique and national nihilism, with the possibility of a renewed beginning for Israeli national cinema in the new millennium.

The ideology of nationalism was held in great suspicion following the catastrophic consequences of two world wars in the twentieth century-historical disasters which were viewed as being caused primarily by the unbridled forces of nationalism. With the end of the Cold War in the 1980s, the termination of superpowers politics, and the apparent resolution-or suspension-of the ideological conflict between capitalism and socialism, there was a moment of a sense of historical vacuum, popularized by the notion of "the end of history." History, to be sure, continued its course as the narrative of peoples' aspirations and the drama of political conflicts. …

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