Mizrahi:’Israel’s critics did not understand my films’

Revealing article by Uri Klein in Haaretz about the late Moshe Mizrahi, the only Israeli film director to win an Oscar. The Israeli establishment excluded Mizrahi’s films from Israeli cinema, and its output of 1960s bourekas films, such as Sallah Shabati, were ‘disgusting’ in their representation of Jews from Arab countries, in Mizrahi’s opinion.

 “Since my films tackled relations between
Ashkenazim and Sephardim differently [referring to European Jews and
those of Spanish, Middle Eastern or North African origin, respectively],
I suffered throughout my career from a lack of understanding on the
part of both the Israeli establishment and the critics.

“For years, I wasn’t
included in the narrative of Israeli cinema – and I really have no idea
why. I have no idea how one can speak about the history of Israeli
cinema without including my films. It’s possible that because of my
biography, which led me from Alexandria to Jerusalem to Paris, I appear
to be a foreigner. But, unless I’m mistaken, the films I make aren’t
foreign.” 

These were the words of director Moshé Mizrahi when I interviewed him in 2009. He passed away on Friday at age 86. 

Moshe Mizrahi: bourekas films were disgusting

No, Mizrahi was not mistaken. The films
he directed in Israel – of which there are many, but especially “I Love
You Rosa” (1972), and “The House on Chelouche Street” and “Daughters,
Daughters” (both 1973) – are milestones in the history of Israeli
cinema. Their quality even heralded the revolution in Israeli cinema in
the present century. 

They
were created in the midst of a wave of comedies dubbed “bourekas films”
– comedies that flooded Israeli movie theaters at the time and were
mostly concerned with relations between Ashkenazim and Sephardim.

But there was a huge
difference between Mizrahi’s films and those movies. In the same
interview, he told me that the manner in which Sephardim – now more
commonly known as Mizrahim – were presented during that period actually
deterred him. He said it was “a disgrace” that they became cult films. 

“What does
[Budapest-born filmmaker Ephraim] Kishon know about Mizrahim?” he asked,
adding that “Sallah Shabati” – about a Yemenite Jewish family
immigrating to Israel – was “a disgusting film in the way it presented
Jews from Arab countries.” 

Read article in full 

Film maker Moshe Mizrahi dies aged 86

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