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The New Cinema City Jerusalem and Two Movie Reviews: Makom Be-Gan Eden and Hahi Shehozeret Habaita

I remember when I was eighteen and a student in Jerusalem, there were no fewer than ten different movies to see at any time in the downtown area, including at the five theater Orion, fifteen if you included the five theaters at Binyanei Hauma. I saw a number of movies at the Orion over the years the last one being True Romance in 1994, just before it closed. The seats were all old, wooden and uncomfortable and the roof leaked when it rained. The building, on Shamai, was later converted into the Second Cup coffee shop which has since closed. Now it is divided into a McDonalds on one side and a pub on the other. You can still see the old box office between the two.

Then there were the Edison twin theaters on Hillel Street. That’s where I saw Sleepless in Seattle, Working Girl and Silence of the Lambs. It later became a Blockbuster and now it’s a restaurant. There was also a small decrepit theater at the end of Agrippas right near King George Street. That’s where I saw Bill Murray in Scrooged. More than twenty years after it closed, the empty concrete hulk of a building still sits there, decaying. I guess there must be some sort of law suit over who owns the property which is usually the reason that prime real estate, such as that, goes undeveloped.

There was also a movie theater on Yehezkel Street up the block from Haneviim Street. That is where I saw the first Naked Gun movie. It was in an old theater that was a popular play house before independence. But the Ultra Orthodox community expanded into the area so the theater closed and the property was converted into apartments.

Finally there was the Kfir in the basement of the Clal Building on Yafo Street. That’s where I saw Rain Man back in 89′. It closed a year later. On the building over an entrance on Yafo, you can make out the remnants of the poster for the last movie that played there, The Hunt for Red October. Talk about lazy! More than twenty years later and the building’s owners never got around to cleaning that up.

There is a reason why all of those movie theaters closed one after the other. They were all old, outdated and falling apart. Also the downtown area became less accessible and new commercial centers developed in other parts of town. First a new movie multiplex, the Rav Chen, opened in Talpiot in 1992 which had just begun to develop new shopping centers and night clubs.

The problem with the movies in Talpiot is that they are off at the far end of the neighborhood and it takes forever to get there by bus. Then in 1993 a new super sized mall opened in Malha. It had a Globus multiplex. That theater was never properly maintained and was mercifully closed a few years ago.

I was elated when they chose to move the Globus theaters back to their original home at Binyanei Hauma. I live only a short walk from there. But these theaters are not fitted with the most up to date sound and projection systems so I could never enjoy seeing a big blockbuster type movie like the new Star Treks there.

For a long time I prayed for a miracle. I desperately wanted a new modern multiplex with all of the latest technologies to open in Jerusalem, preferably somewhere close to where I live in Nachlaot. A home cinema would’ve been ideal but at the time I didn’t have a job so I couldn’t afford Home Cinema Installation. I’m definitely considering getting a home cinema now though. My prayers were recently answered when Cinema City came to town.

So I finally got to check out the new Cinema City in Jerusalem which opened two weeks ago after a long delay. It is located near downtown opposite the Supreme Court building and only a fifteen minute walk from the Central Bus Station and a light rail stop. It also offers free indoor parking and has fifteen screens.

They clearly rushed to open the building. There was a rain storm that night and the domed roof leaked. The second floor is still under construction and some of the stores and restaurants had yet to open. The ground level holds a number of restaurants, ice cream and junk food parlors, a McDonald’s Express and a few clothing stores. There is also a Kitchen Aid Outlet and a Bug computers store.

The movie theaters are located below ground. To get there you go down an escalator and enter into a hall lined with life sized statues of famous movie characters. This is where the concession stands are and at the end of the hall is an entrance to four of the larger theaters.

The remaining theaters are located on the other side. Their entrances are opposite a balcony that looks down over the buffet which comes with a VIP ticket. The VIP theaters are located one more level down. For 129 Shekels you get, in addition to your ticket, a dairy buffet with coffee, unlimited popcorn and drinks which you can take inside to the movie and special seating in recliners. It is like sitting in your living room when watching a movie. If you expect to spend – in addition to the 39 Shekels for a ticket — upwards of sixty Shekels (and maybe more) for a meal before the movie and then another forty or more Shekels for popcorn and drinks then I guess the VIP deal is worth it.

I did not choose this option myself, so I cannot comment on the quality of the food or the special seating. I did see from above the balcony what they serve at the buffet. It looked like a typical dairy selection with cheeses, pastas and burekas.

If you do venture up to the second uncompleted floor you will find a restaurant and a small store reminiscent of the Yellow Station highway pit stops located around Israel. It was laughable seeing a young bored looking woman sitting at the cash register. The store is hidden in the corner and there does not seem to be any reason for people, as of yet, to shop there so I am sure that this woman has little if any work to do. Perhaps they should have waited to open it until after the completion of the entire mall.

There are also several outdoor patios where you can take your coffee/junk food/take out to eat or just hang out. It was night and raining so there was not much to see. But come summer time in nice whether it will be a nice place to eat. There is a beautiful view of town and Nachlaot from there.

For some reason the movie times at the new Cinema City cannot be found on any of the movie listings web cites such as Seret.Co.il. Cinema City’s own web site is confusing and hard to navigate. The movies and their times are not listed separately. There is, instead, a small window in the middle of a large page where you can scroll through all the day’s movies in order of show times.

The older movie theaters at Binyanei Hauma convention center, which were re-opened only a few years ago when Globus moved back there from the Malha mall, are still open. This is in spite of the fact that the new Cinema City is just a short walk away from there. Cinema City is also showing the same movies as Binyanei Hauma and more. I guess the Globus theaters will close soon.

This is the time of year when the new movies which are released just aren’t worth the price of admission. Sure there are some little gems that get great reviews like Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. (Its gotten great reviews, but I haven’t seen it yet.) But most of what is playing now are holdovers from last year trying to cash in their successes at the Oscars, such as Twelve Years a Slave, and stupid action movies, such as the new 300 and Pompeii.

That being the case I chose to see Makom Be-Gan Eden (A Place in heaven). This is a new slow moving Israeli movie from director Yossi Madmoni.

Makom Be-Gan Eden is ostensibly about how a young religious Israeli army cook in the 1950’s “buys” the place in heaven belonging to the macho, heroic major who leads the cook’s unit. The cook believes that, even though the major is secular, he is assured a place in the World to Come because of his heroics on the battle field protecting the State of Israel and the Jewish People. The cook himself, for reasons revealed later, fears that he lost his place in heaven, in spite of being religious, because of something that happened when he was a boy.

Alon Aboutbul in Makon Be-Gan Eden

Alon Aboutbul in Makon Be-Gan Eden

The major sells the cook his place in the World to Come for thirty days of special dinners prepared by the cook. This is reminiscent of Esau’s selling his birth right to his brother Jacob for a bowl of soup.

The movie opens with the major’s now adult son frantically running through the Nachlaot neighborhood looking for the man who bought his father’s place in heaven. The son is religious and does not want his father to lose out on the World to Come.

The first shot of the film is of an upside down panoramic of Jerusalem looking down from the area of the Knesset over Sacher Park and into the Nachlaot neighborhood. The upside down imagery is repeated through the movie. I am not sure exactly what the director was attempting to evoke here. Is the story itself upside down?

Makon Be-Gan Eden

Makon Be-Gan Eden

The movie follows the story of the major’s life from the above incident in the 1950’s, as he rises to the rank of general, until his death in the 1990’s.

The exact time frame of the movie is left deliberately ambiguous and it jumps quickly through different periods without specifying the exact year. For example, we see him with his wife just before the Six Day War. We know this only because we see the Old City Walls as the characters talk about how soon it will no longer be in the hands of the Jordanians. The movie then jumps forward to the Yom Kipur War. We are not told at first what is happening and so we can be forgiven for thinking that it is the Six Day War, but you can figure it out from what is going on.

Makom Be-Gan Eden is also stingy on providing its characters’ names, even the protagonist. We do hear him nicknamed Bambi during the 1950’s. Most are nameless and the leads are only given first names. Perhaps the ambiguity of the film is part of the director’s attempt to make it biblical in nature. The Bible tends to be ambiguous about the passage of time between events and many characters are nameless.

I do not a want to give too much of the story away. (I despise film critics who synopsize the movies that they review and ruin plot points for the reader. I try not to say a lot about what happens in movies which can make it difficult sometimes to give you an accurate assessment of them.) But the ambiguity applies to an important plot point when the general remarries a Russian woman and it is not clear why his children are so angry about it. We assume at the time and find out for certain later that the second wife is not Jewish.

This may have seemed like a good narrative tool to Yossi Madmoni who also wrote the movie, but I found it to be annoying. The ambiguity of the time line also leads to confusion here. His son, who was born during the Yom Kippur War, is Bar Mitzva age at this time which would make it 1986. The Russian wife is revealed to have been a “mail order bride.” Were there really any Russian mail order brides in the 1980’s before the fall of the Soviet Union?

A major theme of Makom Be-Gan Eden is religious belief, or the lack thereof. The general is a consummate atheist. His son grows up to be orthodox.

Another biblical analogy is when the then major wants to marry a girl who serves in his unit. Ayala comes from a religious family. She explains to Bambi that her father would never consent to her marrying a secular man. So Bambi talks to Ayala’s father and agrees to work on the father’s farm and study Tora for one year while observing the commandments.

This is clearly taken from the Biblical story of Jacob who agreed to work for his father in law Lavan for seven years in order to marry Lavan’s daughter Rachel.

Makom Be Gan Eden has a few factual errors, for example, during the sequence set in the Yom Kipur War where Bambi assumes command of a tank unit. The tanks used by the Israeli Army in that sequence are Megach Sevens, (refurbished American made Patton M60 tanks) which would not be in use for another decade. I guess that was the only tank which the producers could get for the combat scenes. Also, Bambi is already a general when the war starts and came out of the paratroopers. So why would he have been in command of a tank unit on the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War?

There is a sub theme in Mekom Be-Gan Eden that deals with fatherhood and men wanting sons. Bambi waits through two daughters before he finally has a son. While his son is being born, Bambi tells a young soldier during the Yom Kipur War that the soldier is like a son to him. Other people discuss how they lost sons or never had children. Bambi’s relationship with his own son is strained to say the least.

The very idea of being able to “sell” one’s place in the World to Come is also a theme here. Bambi does not think twice about selling his portion because he has no faith in religion at all. But should he not have declined the young soldier’s offer instead of taking advantage of him and accepting all of those meals? Was Bambi just mocking the other soldier’s faith in religion?

Then there is the matter of selling or buying someone’s place in Heaven. Is it not up to God and God alone to decide who gets a portion in the World to Come and how big it will be?

Makon Be-Gan Eden has a terrific cast led by Alon Aboutbol as the general. Aboutbol, 48, is a veteran of many Israeli movies. He has also made the crossover as a character actor in Holywood appearing in movies such as The Dark Night Rises and television shows like NCIS Los Angeles.

Overall I have to give Mekom Be Gan Eden only an above average grade. The story just moves too slowly and can be hard to follow.

I probably shouldn’t be admitting this, but after the movie ended I ducked in to see the second half of another Israeli movie, Hahi Shehozeret Habaita (She that Returns Hone.) I didn’t pay for it and I still wanted my money back. No I do not feel that way only because I missed the first half of the film.

She That Returns Home is about a young woman in her early thirties who returns to live with her parents in their small apartment after her life does not turn out the way she had hoped. It stars Tali Sharon as Michal, in a fine but wasted performance.

Pretentious is the one word that comes to mind for this movie. Michal is having an affair with an older married man played by Alon Aboutbol. While she stays with her parents, instead of dealing with her issues Michal regresses to an adolescent. Maybe she never rebelled as a kid or never got to have fun staying out late drinking with other kids when she was that age and is only now getting to do what she always wanted to be able to do in her youth. I didn’t care.

I was not impressed by watching her meet her married lover in a hotel room while dressed up like a teenage girl/prostitute. I was not impressed by their having rough sex and her feeling left empty afterwards. I certainly did not find it daring for Michal to be shown masturbating in the small room that her parents gave her. She is interrupted by her mother knocking on the door which has a smoked glass window in it. Does the mother know what Michal is doing? Who cares!

Michal hangs out with a bunch of teenagers drinking and smoking with them late at night in a playground. She even brings one boy home with her. Later she goes with him to a school dance.

She That Returns Home

She That Returns Home

As if this was not annoying enough to sit through it is not even an original idea. There was an American movie which starred Kristen Bell called The Lifeguard which came out a year earlier. In The Lifeguard, which was not warmly received by critics, Kristen Bell basically does the same things that Tali Sharon does in Hahi Shehozeret Habaita. But at least the other characters in The Lifeguard, including Kristen Bell’s old friends who have moved on with their lives and her parents, are deep and three dimensional. I cannot say the same for the others characters in Hahi Shehozeret Habaita.

Hahi Shehozeret Habaita was written and directed by first time writer and director Maya Dreifuss. Let’s hope that she does a better job next time if there is a next time.

Gil

Gil Tanenbaum made aliyah from New York after he completed college.He Has lived in Israel for over 20 years.He has an MBA from Bar Ilan University and is a contributor for various blogs.

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