Ha`Ir - September 12, 2002
Hagai Levi

Uninhabited Success

Can we tell what kind of Israeli movie will attract the audience?
Is there a formula for creating a local blockbuster?
Yossi & Jagger, the unexpected summer hit as an example.
Yossi & Jagger

Life, as we all know, is what happens to you while making other plans. There's something paralyzing about plans - the expectations they create, the pressure involved in their existence, the knowledge that they have to be all-including, with a total and real solution. Therefore, plans can take years of your time, and the things you do while waiting can become the best things that ever happened to you. Trivial and yet always surprising.

The nice thing about the success of Yossi & Jagger (every screening is sold-out, approaching ten thousand viewers, Berlin International Film Festival, and huge buzz in Tel-Aviv) is the relatively tranquil manner in which it was made. Eytan Fox was busy a year ago with a feature film he was trying to produce for years now. Things didn't go smoothly as usual, and Fox thought to himself that in the meantime there would be no harm in directing a small Drama - why not! The mental stress involved with making a movie for an artist is immense. The general notion is that the artist should have a message, and needs a platform that will bring the audience to the box-office, serious fund-raising, and time. The preparation and decision-making period is longer and much more difficult. Television, on the other hand, is a much easier, cheaper matter that allows more space for trial and error.

So, Yossi & Jagger, a beautiful and charming movie, has become six months since its shooting to one of Fox's (and in general) best works, becoming a feature film and being one of the Israel's blockbusters, more than other "standard" films that were made this year. Thus Yossi & Jagger has become a kind of local artists fantasy: to create a small-scale movie every year or two with little time and without distribution pressure and with the warm support of a TV network, that bases its support on your previous credits, and not solely on the written script. The success, in this case, is just a bonus, not only by chance. The fact that a film about homosexuals has become such a "must" in the Israeli culture is a proof of Eytan Fox's capabilities as a director, and to the way he always manages to lurk his way to his viewers hearts and succeeds in touching their soul almost without them noticing.

The Secret of Success

If anybody could figure out the secret of commercial success of an Israeli movie, something very bad would happen to Israeli Cinema. Still, most of the experienced people at the film industry can predict if a certain film will make it or fail at the theatres. The combination of good reviews and an Israeli Academy Award Winning is usually enough for a reasonable box-office success. All it means is that a successful Israeli movie has to be a good movie, and that the academy is a good case-study to predict the audience's reaction. But what kind of movies are they? What is the common feature they all have to include?

First of all, these films must have a bigger than life story, strange, extreme or unrealistic - obsession, fantasy, magic, unnatural death, bizarre foreign culture, and so on. The Israeli audience does not go to theaters to see its own dull lives - they want magic.

Second of all, a local film will not be able to make it without a huge dose of humor or sex, and even better, both of them together.

And stars. Yes. As opposed to the general opinion we have in Israel, some actors and actresses that can bring the audience to the theaters. It's not the only criteria, but it sure helps.

Interestingly enough, if you plan all these elements in advance in order to succeed, you will probably fail, as authenticity and self-expression are ultimately the most crucial conditions for local success. Justice is made.