What happens when success sours?

What happens when success sours?

Cinematec will present and discuss Israeli film ‘The Monkey House’ at the Kaplen JCC

In front, Adir Miller and Shani Cohen, and in back, Suzanna Papian are in “The Monkey House.”
In front, Adir Miller and Shani Cohen, and in back, Suzanna Papian are in “The Monkey House.”

Sometimes, especially when there is so much conflict in the world, it seems like people are very different. We see different cultures, different value systems, and different ways of life. But in many ways, people are also very similar. The need to accomplish, to be successful, and to have that success recognized, is relatively universal.

“I think it’s very common that at some point in their lives, people feel that they didn’t succeed,” Etti Inbal of Cliffside Park said. She’s the founder of Cinematec, which brings Israeli films to the northern New Jersey community. “This can be particularly true when they are faced with criticism.”

Criticism can be especially devastating for people in creative fields — perhaps visual arts, writing, or filmmaking — who view their work as their legacy, Dr. Inbal, who holds a Ph.D. in genetics from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, continued: “Sometimes artists see their work as their contribution, as the way people will remember them, as the essence of their life. If you write a good book, or you produce a good film, it leaves much more beyond your life.

“Some creative people, if they are sure about themselves, don’t care about criticism. They just focus on their art and say, ‘This is what I want to say, and this is the way I want to say it; if you love it, good, and you don’t love it, that’s okay too.’

“But many are not as strong in their self-acceptance, and their connection with themselves and with their art, and are not able to ignore it. And criticism is part of life.”

Dr. Inbal, who grew up in Israel and lives in Cliffside Park now, founded Cinematic in 2016. Her goal was to create community as well as a “space where Israelis and Jewish Americans, and all Americans, can come together and talk, and better understand Israel and also one another,” she said. Cinematec events tend to sell out quickly, and advance reservations are always a good idea, she added.

Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher’s latest film, “The Monkey House,” tells the fictional story of a popular author, Amitai Kariv, who meets with success early on — his first four novels are award-winning best sellers — and then sees his career take a downturn as his next two books are received less enthusiastically, and the following two books are met with some derision. Cinematec will screen the film, with English subtitles, at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades on February 24. (See box.)

“The Monkey House” is set in Israel, against an Israeli cultural backdrop — it references, for example, lifelong friendships that were formed while growing up on a kibbutz — but focuses on a very universal theme, Dr. Inbal said. “Creative people, at a certain time in their lives, start to ask themselves, ‘Did I achieve what I want? Did I get recognized? And if not, what do I do about it?’

“The film explores how the main character copes when his work is criticized on television. What he did about it is very interesting.”

Mr. Nesher, an award-winning filmmaker, is very well known in Israel, and his work is extremely popular, Dr. Inbal continued. “‘The Monkey House’ has many plot twists and it’s very engaging. At first, Mr. Kariv,” portrayed by actor and comedian Adir Miller, “was popular; he felt good, and he felt successful. When that changed, what was the dynamic? How does he react?”

The film’s cast is excellent, Dr. Inbal noted. “Adir Miller is one of the most beloved comedians in Israel; he has an excellent sense of humor. The role he plays is somewhat serious, but with Adir Miller, there is still humor.” The other main cast members — Suzanna Papian, Shani Cohen, Ala Dakka, and Yaniv Biton — are also “leading Israeli comedians” so “although it’s not a comedy, there is a lot of very natural, spontaneous humor, which makes the film very enjoyable.”

Director Avi Nesher, left, is with actors Adir Miller and Suzanna Papian in “The Monkey House.”

Another theme “The Monkey House” touches on is the place of lies in people’s lives, and in their relationships, Dr. Inbal said. The plot centers on a lie concocted by the protagonist to deflect the criticism aimed at his work, “but we see that every one of the people around him also tells some lies, and we see that lies are part of our lives,” she said. The film grapples with questions like “‘When is lying appropriate and when is it not? When does lying make sense?’ In some instances, people cannot survive, or cannot be part of the community, if they do not use some lies.”

The film also showcases an aspect of Israeli society that is especially relevant to the current situation, Dr. Inbal said. “One of the main characters is an Israeli Arab, and he is well accepted by the other characters.” She sees this portrayal as a reflection of Israeli society, where “many Israeli Arabs are loyal citizens, are part of the Israeli community. …  Those who wish to be integrated, to study and work with Israeli Jews, are accepted; they have positive results and live very well.”

The presence of an Arab character isn’t an issue that’s really discussed or dealt with in the film, it’s just part of the Israeli setting, Dr. Inbal said. The point is the character’s seamless integration with the other characters. “It’s natural, part of everyday life in Israel.” Dr. Inbal’s daughter lives in Haifa, where she is a doctor at Carmel Medical Center. “At least 30% of the medical staff is made up of Arab Israelis,” she said.

The discussion and Q&A will be led by award-winning Israeli author Rubi Namdar. “The film is about a writer, about the difficulty faced by a writer, so I wanted a writer to moderate the discussion,” Dr. Inbal said. Mr. Namdar lives in New York City and is married to an American. This is not the first Cinematec event that he will be moderating, “and people love him,” Dr. Inbal said. She expects that he will add a unique perspective to the conversation.

“In addition to his perspective as a writer, Mr. Namdar is very connected to the Israeli community and also understands the dynamic between Americans and Israelis.”

Dr. Inbal thinks that now is a time when this type of event will be especially impactful and appreciated. “It’s nice for people to have the chance to see something Israeli, to relax together, and to create community,” she said.

“Most of us live now” — since October 7 — “in two parts, the part that is worried about the situation in Israel and is still in deep pain, and the part that wants to relax for a little, but with people who understand that state of mind, with people who understand that although you can smile and joke, there is still something very heavy in your heart.”

Participants at Cinematec’s most recent programs thanked Dr. Inbal for providing a space “for people just to be together with others who understand what is going on inside you, for people to relax together and to learn or explore something together.

“It really was so important for them to be together, to experience the kehilla” — the community — “aspect of the gathering. This is a healing experience.”

“I think what happened since October 7, for many people who thought that they were really part of a broader community, for many who thought that they had good friends who they worked with, studied with, or socialized with, the response of the general public in America was shocking,” Dr. Inbal continued. “The response was antisemitism instead of support for Israel and the Jewish people.

“I think we are still in deep pain, and when you are with the Jewish community and the Israeli community, you feel more understood, you feel more supported, you feel more like people see you in many more layers, and that that’s what many of us need now.”

But Cinematic’s objective is not to help Jews or American Israelis self-insulate, Dr.Inbal said. On the contrary, one of the organization’s goals is to help Americans gain a better understanding of Israeli society. And Cinematec programs that have featured Israeli films with universal themes that resonate with broad audiences, like “The Monkey House,” have drawn people who did not have a connection to Israel, and were not Jewish, but were just interested in the topics presented.

The goal is for these participants to enjoy, “besides the film itself, the sense of sharing and friendship” that is an integral part of the Cinematec community, Dr. Inbal explained. “We want to hear different points of view, we want to listen to questions and learn together, and learn about Israel.” And many festivals are now discriminating against Israeli films, Dr. Inbal added, so it’s important to keep supporting and empowering Israeli artists.

What: A screening of Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher’s “The Monkey House” followed by a discussion and Q&A with author Rubi Namdar.

When: Saturday, February 24, 7–10 p.m.

Where: Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly

Cost: $30

Register at: www.jccotp.org/event/cinematec/. Cinematec events tend to sell out quickly; early reservations are suggested.

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