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July 7, 2021 by · Leave a Comment 

After winning last year’s Golden Bear, the top award at the Berlin Film Festival, for his film Synonyms and now becoming a frontrunner for the Palme D’or, the top prize at Cannes, director Nadav Lapid may become a major opposition voice in Israel. In Synonyms, his lead character rejects the Jewish state, the country of his birth, and comes to France in hope of embarking on a new life. One of his first efforts is to learn as many adjectives as he can search out in a French-Hebrew dictionary to curse his former homeland. Lapid reiterates many of those same words in Ahed’s Knee, which debuted on Wednesday at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation lasting nearly ten minutes. It is based on the reaction of some Israeli citizens to footage (shown here) of a Palestinian teenager, Ahed Tamini, who slapped an Israeli soldier during a protest in front of her home and was sentenced to eight months in prison. One Israeli lawmaker commented that prison was not enough to stop such behavior, that she should have been shot “at least in the knee.” Many Israelis took to Twitter to voice their support for the Israeli MP’s proposal.

In Ahed’s Knee, the principal character, an Israeli director played by Avshalom Pollak, has just won a top prize in Berlin and has been invited to speak about his film to a group in a small Israeli village. Upon his arrival, he is greeted by a local cultural bureaucrat who hands him a document in which he is asked to avoid touching on certain controversial topics. What follows is a devastating broadside against Israeli censorship and how it underpins Israel’s alleged oppressive policies towards Palestinians. In an interview with the French news agency AFP on Wednesday, Lapid remarked, “The sad thing in Israel is you don’t have to put tanks in front of the Israeli Film Fund, you don’t have to arrest a director and throw him in jail like in Russia. It’s effective just to say, ‘Enough politics, guys, let’s talk about family.’”

Several critics have pointed out the irony that funding for Ahed’s Knee came in part from the Israeli Film Fund. But in-your-face polemics are not likely to attract audiences beyond the festival limits, something that the country’s authorities may well have recognized. International films that receive award recognition may enhance a country’s image, even if the films themselves do not. And clearly, Ahed’s Knee is not the kind of film that attracts mass audiences. “It grinds as uncomfortably as a joint without cartilage,” wrote Jessica Klang in Variety. Peter Bradshaw in Britain’s The Guardian called the film “a fierce, jagged shard of autofictional rage.” Jason Solomons in The Wrap bestowed much praise on Lapid’s movie-making inventiveness, then concluded, “Overall, though, it’s a work of robust intellectual energy and raging conflict that could come across as hectoring and even bullying.”

And while some commentators are suggesting that the movie will lift Lapid to an honored place of opposition to the Israeli government, others are not so sure, noting that even winning the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival last year did not provide him with much influence in Israeli politics. Despite his victory, his winning film was picked up for release in only four countries, Israel, the U.S., France, and Germany. It earned a box-office total of just $615,592.