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Dayan, Assi (1945–) - PERSONAL HISTORY, BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS, PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:, INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS, EXPLORING, THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE, LEGACY

israeli film dayan’s films

As a writer-director, Assaf (“Assi”) Dayan is one of Israel’s most prominent, controversial, and brilliant artists, who in his films criticizes some of his country’s national values and myths. As an actor, he personifies first the myth and then the de-mystification of the Sabra, that is, the so-called Israeli new Jew whose good looks match his bravery and combat skills. Dayan’s name was tied with repeated drug addictions as well as several failed marital adventures. He is also the author of several novels ( Table of Contents ) and popular songs.

PERSONAL HISTORY

Dayan was born on 23 November 1945 in Nahalal, Palestine. He was the youngest son of Moshe Dayan, who was Israel’s chief of staff and who later on, as minister of defense, was responsible for the victory against the Arab states in the 1967 War. His grandfather, Shmuel, was also a member of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) from Mapai Party, and his uncle, Ezer Weizman, was an air force commander, minister of defense, and the seventh president of the State of Israel. His older sister, Yael, is an author who was also in the Knesset and is a strong supporter of gay rights. It was probably this familial biography that turned Assi’s filmic persona into the ultimate image of the Sabra, an image from which he most desperately tried to differentiate himself, both as an actor-director and in his persistently rebellious personal life and public statements.

After studying philosophy and English literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dayan made his first screen appearance in He Walked in the Fields (1967). Based on Moshe Shamir’s classic novel that tells the story of Uri, a young kibbutz member who is torn between his love of Mika, a young immigrant, and his patriotic duties to the soon-to-be-established State of Israel (the book and the film take place in 1947, about a year before the foundation of Israel). This was one of the most successful films in the wave of nationalist-heroic films that appeared mainly after the 1967 War, and depicted young Sabras fighting and dying for their country.

The traumatic 1973 War, which shattered the heroic image of the Israeli army as well as the Israeli smugness after the victory in the 1967 War, also destabilized the heroic image of the Sabra. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 (which was not considered a purely defensive act) divided the Israeli society for the first time between those who supported the war and those who opposed it and further undermined the Sabra image. Dayan’s persona both on and off screen expressed this demystification.

In Uri Barbash’s Beyond the Walls (1984), nominated for an Academy Award as best foreign language film, Dayan plays a political prisoner sentenced for anti-state actions (his character here is based on Udi Adiv, a leftist radical who in 1973 was tried and imprisoned for meeting Palestine Liberation Organization leaders in Damascus and forming an anti-Israeli Arab-Jewish underground). In Till the End of the Night (Eithan Green, 1985) Dayan portrays an ex-military commander in the Lebanese war who was disgracefully discharged, and in Real Time (Uri Barbash, 1991) he plays a colonel who was also discharged for making hasty and erroneous decisions under fire during the 1973 War and is now insistently fighting for his complete acquittal.

Dayan’s growing popularity as an Israeli film star led him to his directorial debut. Invitation to Murder (1973) was a local film noir, which told the story of an unusual police detective tracking a serial killer in the streets of Tel Aviv. Though not a significant film in the history of Israeli cinema, the film depicted Dayan’s nihilistic-surrealist approach toward contemporary life in Israel, which became clearer in his later films.

His next film, Feast to the Eyes (1975) is a black comedy in which a failed poet decides to put an end to his life in a remote northern Israeli town. Here too, Dayan’s obsession with death not only emphasized his own existentialist view but also served as a metaphor to the collective Israeli psyche whose endless obsession with death resulted in the mystification of martyrdom and the heroic self-sacrifice in the battlefield. In this film, Dayan corresponded with the same nationalist-heroic films in which he gained his stardom.

In 1976 Dayan wrote and directed Giv’at Halfon Doesn’t Answer , a kind of Israeli M.A.S.H , that is one of most popular Israeli films ever made. It stars Ha-Gashash ha-Hiver, a mythological comic trio, and its absurd plot focuses on their adventures during reserve duty in the Sinai Desert. It was the first film to ridicule the Israeli army in a time—just after the traumatic 1973 War and prior to the political upheaval of 1977 in which the dominant Labor Party lost the Knesset elections for the first time—when a general feeling that the basic foundations and beliefs of the Israeli society has been severely shaken.

In the years following Giv’at Halfon , Dayan has made several low and common comedies (among them is the brilliantly funny social satire Shlager 1979 which also starred the Gashash trio). Mainly, these films did not attract either critical acclaim or special public attention. The only exception is Final Exams , a tender though didactic teen film about the unexpected pregnancy of a high school student.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Assaf (“Assi”) Dayan

Birth: 1945, Nahalal, Palestine

Family: Aarona Malkind (divorced; one daughter, Amalia and one son, Avner), Caroline Langford (divorced; 1 son, Lior), Smadar Kilchinsky (divorced), Vered Tandler-Dayan (separated), Augusta Noiman (never married; 1 child, Assia Noiman)

Nationality: Israeli

Education: Philosophy and English literature, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1967: Makes first screen appearance in He Walked in the Fields
  • 1973: Directorial debut
  • 1992: Life according to Agfa is awarded best picture by the Israeli film academy. Wins best director and screenplay awards
  • 1996: Best actor and screenplay awards for Mr. Baum
  • 2006: Best actor award for the TV series BeTipul and best actor award for appearance in Things behind the Sun

In the 1990s Dayan made what one might call his Nihilist Trilogy, starting with the much acclaimed Life according to Agfa (1992), an apocalyptic film shot in stark black-and-white that uses the locale of a dirty Tel Aviv pub as a microcosm of the current Israeli society—decadent, violent, aimless, and hopeless. The Zionist utopia depicted was on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown. Its clients consisted of the archetypal Zionist images: lonely and dependent women (Dalia, the pub’s owner, played by Israeli leading actress, GILA ALMAGOR, or Ricky, a troubled young woman who left her husband and little boy in the kibbutz and was lost in the big hostile city), vulgar and aggressive military men (for example, Nimrod, a broken legged warrior who, along with his unit friends, provides a distorted and parodic image of the heroic male Sabra), and the Palestinian kitchen workers whose so-called otherness is manifested in the closed and unseen territory they inhabit. Dayan had himself reflected through Tcherniac (played by Israeli blues singer, Danny Litani), the pub’s local musician who, through his satiric songs, expressed Dayan’s own disparaging view of the Zionist dystopia.

The film, which gained critical and commercial success and was the subject of many arguments over its pessimistic views critical tones, ends with a violent outburst when Nimrod and his subordinates return to the pub (from which they were brutally expelled earlier) and start massacring most of the protagonists. Thus, Dayan’s apocalypse depicts Israeli militarism and inherent violence as the basis for this society’s own destruction that is due within “a year from now” as a caption at the beginning of the film says.

Next came Electric Blanket (1995), a surreal fantasy that follows a homeless person, a Romanian prostitute, and her philosopher pimp (who first appeared in Agfa ) in a Dantean journey throughout a cemetery, prostitute beach, and finally an emergency room in the hospital. “No purpose. Just living, period,” is a repeated motive in this film. Though a commercial and critical failure, there are some who consider the film to be one of the best Israeli films of the 1990s. Completing the trilogy is Mr. Baum (1997) which unfolds, in real time, in the last ninety two minutes in the life of Micky Baum (played by Dayan), a successful businessman who suffers from an incurable disease.

Mr. Baum fully represents the tension between the personal and the national that exists in all of Dayan’s works—a tension that is represented by his own biography and screen persona. Thus, Micky Baum himself turns into national figure. A surrealist exhibition publicly displays a magnified and detailed re-creation of several objects—a half-eaten apple, a parking ticket—that are related to Baum’s last moments. In that way, Micky Baum’s life and death become a myth: a pungent satiric comment on a militant society that lives on the rituals of heroic-manly death. In a powerful scene of full frontal nudity toward the end of the film, Dayan’s character takes his clothes off in order to have one last shower. His wretched body and bald forehead symbolize the above-mentioned decadence of the Sabra myth. In the end, it is not only Micky Baum who dies, but also the sum of the cinematic images incorporated in Dayan’s own screen persona, a function of his familial identity as the son of one of the military architects of the glorious victory of the 1967 War.

It may therefore come as no surprise that Dayan’s next film was titled The Gospel according to God (2004). Dayan plays the title role, the Almighty, a dysfunctional father to adolescent son Jesus, as if referring to his complicated relationship with his own father while acknowledging his fundamental position in Israeli cinema and culture as creator of the filmic image of the mythological Sabra.

In 2004 Dayan portrayed his own father in the television film Silence of the Sirens , about the crucial days preceding the 1973 War.

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

Dayan’s films are positioned between two poles identified in Israeli cinema. On the one hand, there is personal-elitist cinema that was dominant in the sixties, much influenced by European modernists such as Michelangelo Antonioni and the French New Wave; films that, in the 1980s, transformed into and manifested the political-critical stance. And on the other hand, there were popular, low-brow comedies and melodramas that were mainly received with hostility and abhorrence by the cultural establishment.

As far as popular comedies are concerned, Dayan created a new jargon based on verbal absurdities and caricaturizations of ethnic accents as well as on ridiculing high culture. Many of those citations (taken mainly from Giv’at Halfon and Shlager ) are frequently quoted and are an integral part of popular culture.

EXPLORING

Sabra is a slang term used, as from the 1930s, to define an Israeli-born Jew. It was also used by the Zionist movement to distinguish between the exilic Jew and the so-called new Jew who either left the Diaspora and emigrated to Israel, or was born there. Unlike the so-called old Jew in Europe who lived under the benevolence of his Gentile neighbors, the Sabra is identified by his strong body and good looks, and is capable of hard land work and of defending himself. He is mostly depicted as a kibbutz member and a heroic warrior. The term Sabra in Hebrew refers to the cactus plant. Its use in this specific cultural and social relation is attributed to the Israeli journalist Uri Keisari.

THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE

Early in his acting career, Dayan appeared in several foreign productions. Among them were John Huston’s medieval melodrama A Walk with Love and Death (1969), in which he played a young French scholar who falls in love with the noble Anjelica Huston; and Jules Dassin’s Promise at Dawn (1970) where he portrayed the young Romain Gary (alongside Melina Mercouri). He also appeared in several Israeli-European coproductions, such as the action-thriller The Uranium Conspiracy (1978), directed by Israeli veteran Menachem Golan and starring Italian Fabio Testi.

LEGACY

Assi Dayan has made a distinguished career both as an actor and as a writer-director. He uses his popularity in the media (Dayan is a much desired and sharp interviewee) to tackle with issues that do not seek to flatter common audiences, as well as confronting existential ideas—the meaning of life and death, for example—which are not frequent themes in Israeli cinema. In that sense, Assi Dayan is that rare and unique combination of filmmaker and philosopher.

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almost 6 years ago

i loved this hero man,i have reads many heroes back ground ,but they were not like him,Mashe dayan was not the hero of israel but of all the world,intellectual,decisive,strong,i tried to get his book ,but to no avail,please u can help we can learn a big lesson from his teaching