What is Israeli cuisine? What is its history? How did it evolve? What is its future? Those are some of the questions asked in the illuminating doc In Search of Israel Cuisine, directed by Roger Sherman. Michael Solomonov, chef and co-owner of the restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia, serves as the film's a narrator and guide through Israel. Part of what makes this doc so intriguing is that the answers to the question "What is Israeli cuisine?" has so many different answers. One expert says that it's an amalgam of many different cuisines. Another expert calls it "a very precocious baby cuisine." Farmers, food journalists, vintners, a cheese-maker and a wide variety of chefs in Israel provide a lot of insight. You also get to see first-hand how some of the chefs prepare their innovative Israeli cuisine dishes using locally-sourced ingredients such as olive oil, chick peas, and sumac. By not spending too much time at each location before moving onto the next and not bombarding the audience with many talking heads, Sherman avoids making the doc feel dry, academic and tedious. Each location that Solomonov visits manages to be a lively feast for the eyes, mind and soul. The fact that In Search of Israeli Cuisine combines a wide breadth of insight in an ideal running time of 94 minutes is a testament to Sherman and editor Pamela Scott Arnold's discipline and skill. Don't be surprised if you'll find yourself to yearning to try some bourekas or any of the other mouth-watering Israeli food featured in the film. Menemsha Films opens In Search of Israeli Cuisine at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
I, Olga Hepnarova
Olga Hepnarova (Michalina Olszanska), a young, mentally unstable woman, comes from a dysfunctional home where her mother (Klara Meliskova) and father (Vickor Vrabek) ignore her emotional needs. During her teenage years, she overdoses and ends up at a mental hospital. She suffers from bullying and has repressed homosexuality which she eventually explores, but her mental state gradually deteriorates and her pent-up anger toward others comes to a boil before she commits a heinous crime.
Unfortunately, the screenplay co-writers/directors Peter Kazda and Tomás Weinreb feels too pedestrian and shallow because it fails to provide a window into Olga's mind and soul. The use of black-and-white cinematography compliments the somber tone, but it doesn't add any much-needed depth. Too much of the film suffers from lethargy. It's very fortunate that Michalina Olszanska gives a convincingly moving performance because she's the film's saving grace who keeps you engaged because she finds the emotional truth of her role. The final 10 minutes when Olga commits her crime are gripping, but in a gentle, understated way.
By the time the film ends, you never feel like you have truly gotten to know Olga as a human beinmg enough to make her a memorable or fully fleshed out character---flawed characters, after all, are almost always more interesting than flawless characters, so the potential is there, but the screenwriters squander it. It's too bad that Michalina Olszanska's solid performance is undermined by a dull, underwhelming screenplay.