Monday, June 09, 2008

The Zohan

What "Brokeback Mountain" is to "Yossi and Jagger," the hilarious "You Don't Mess With the Zohan"--not "Munich"-- is to "Walk on Water." They are the same movie, except that "Zohan" is American while "Walk on Water" is Israeli. In both films, a Mossad agent undergoes a slow transition from Zionist meanie to pacifist hero, falling in love, along the way, with an 'enemy' woman--the German granddaughter of a big Nazi in "Walk on Water," and the Palestinian sister of a big terrorist in "Zohan." Make love not war, star-crossed lovers, and all that.

I point this out not to show a greater trend of American movies ripping off (inspired by?) Israeli films--there is, to my knowledge, no such trend--but to ask what is going on, such that any movie about Israel, to be a more general success, has to involve a happy ending in which the male lead not only abandons violence but gives up on Israel altogether. I would say it's just something about the movies, but I don't really know. Living in New York, I am constantly meeting Israeli expats, not ex-Mossad hairdressers, but plenty of ex-IDF grad students, actors, waiters... Some will return, many are delighted to stay in NYC for ever and ever. From mounds of anecdotal evidence, I'd started to assume nearly all Israelis wish they could live in New York, a happy thought for a chauvinistic New Yorker but a sad one for a Zionist. And yes, sometimes people hold contradictory viewpoints.

Needless to say, Israelis who live in New York cannot possibly be representative of all Israelis. Some must live in Israel, lo? I did meet some on Birthright, the soldiers who accompanied our group. They seemed thrilled to serve their country, and not the least bit tempted to move to America, no doubt because of the ugly-American-tourist behavior they got to witness by riding along on our bus. That said, these Israelis were picked to represent Israel on a Zionist youth-trip, and so are also not so representative.

So what lies between the two extremes, between the expats and the rah-rah patriots? Since I have not yet had a chance to live in Israel, I'm going to go with what I've learned from Israeli cinema. In plenty of Israeli movies, it is simply a given that the characters are Jewish (though often enough, secular) Israelis, and that they will continue living in Israel after the credits roll. These films are neither pro- nor anti-Israel, except inasmuch as any movie about Israel that does not end with the protagonist's triumphant emigration and/or intermarriage is, by default, on the "pro" side. Really, any film that sends any message other than, Israel is by definition bad news, is pro-Israel. The message can be pro-peace, pro-Palestinian, pro-gay, pro-anything, critical of the government or apolitical, and the movie will still be pro-Israel. It is only when a 'happy ending' is defined as abandoning the country that a movie about the place fails to be pro-Israel.

That said, "Zohan" was amazing. Highly recommended.

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