Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Digital debut: THE ISRAELI BOYS explores being gay in Israel today, via six varied and very fine short films

Israel has come quite a distance, in term of sexual inclusiveness, since the days when some of its leaders proclaimed that homosoexuality simply did not exist in this "promised land." That ridiculous -- impossible-for-any-country-to-truthfully-boast -- idea has now been replaced with a "come to Israel" public relations campaign that promises just about all a gay guy could want. (There has even been a documentary made on this subject!) Now arrives THE ISRAELI BOYS, a collection of short gay-themed films culled from worldwide festivals over the past few years that proves to be one of the best short film collections I've seen on the subject of gay lives. (Granted, the bar has not been set terribly high here, short film-wise.)

Featuring gay characters of all ages, teen to senior, and subject matter that spans a broad range of gay concerns that are thankfully shown us from not the usual angle -- in the "coming out" short, A Trip to the Desert (above, written and directed by Nizan Lotem and Lior Haen), it is the reactions of the friends of the gay that count most -- each short is extremely well-written, -directed and -acted. And while each achieves its goal near-perfectly, only one of the short films -- Stav, (shown below, and written/directed by the lone woman in the bunch, Michal Haggiag) -- has been filmed in a style that strays much away from straight-ahead realism.

Which is fine -- when the realism seem real, which it certainly does here. In the first of the films, Three (below, and written/directed by Lior Soroka), one member of a couple is pushing for a threesome, while the other would prefer to keep things dual, sexually speaking. Be careful what you wish for, might be the moral here.

The longest, most interesting and assured piece of filmmaking is titled Rubber Dolphin (below), written and directed by Ori Aharon and featuring two terrific performances from its co-stars, Chen Hefetz and Omri Laron. In it, a sexual hook-up for the evening leads to more than either of its participants has expected. While the sex is hot and real, it's the conversation -- smart, sometimes moving and always believable -- and what this leads to that seals the deal. Though sexually explicit (without any full-frontal, unfortunately), this little film may make you question the wisdom in pushing your sexual needs too heavily or too quickly, as well as deciding what's best for your partner, sexually speaking.

After His Death (below, the second film in the bunch to be written/directed by Lior Soroka) begins at a funeral and involves a daughter's discovery of things she never knew about her recently deceased dad. It's standard filmmaking in many ways but so nicely acted and delicately observed that it works quite well.

The final film -- Leave of Absence (shown below), written and directed by Moshe Rosenthal -- is in some ways the jewel in this crown. If I'm not mistaken, the word gay never surfaces and some less sophisticated viewers could easily be forgiven for not even thinking about what happens here from any sexual-preference angle. When a older teacher, now on that titular "leave," runs into some former students and is persuaded to spend an oddball evening with them, the result is strange, sad, funny, and sweet.

Taken as a whole, this 101-minute movie -- in Hebrew, with English subtitles -- explores gay life in Israel with surprising depth and breadth. The Israeli Boys, a must for both gay audiences and short-film aficionados, hits digital via Amazon and Vimeo this Friday, February 7 -- for purchase and rental.

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