Israel Film Festival Review: This Is Sodom

18 May

By Saul Sudin
The Israeli film “This is Sodom” (Zohi Sdom) is a spinoff of the popular comedy television series “Wonderful Country” (Eretz Nehederet), a sort of Israeli Saturday Night Live. Like many feature films rooted in comedy television, it ultimately succeeds or fails based on the audience’s interest in the comedic style and approach. For every Blues Brothers or Monty Python and the Holy Grail we’ve all had to sit through Run, Ronnie, Run or It’s Pat! The Movie. Ultimately, comedy is a tough genre to criticize- it’s often not trying to be high art as much as it is trying to make you laugh (something we addressed in our conversation with director Adam Sanderson at the opening of the festival). Ultimately, if you have fond feelings for Austin Powers or the above mentioned spinoff films; you’ll find plenty to love in Sodom.

In a very Monty Python’s Life of Brian-esque approach (not only in having Lot’s wife played by a man), you have to check whatever offense you would take at a film that liberally pokes fun at a biblical setting at the door. Yes, there is plenty of material that many would find sacrilegious throughout the film. And yes, the film is terribly inaccurate when it suits them. But for those who come in with an open mind and knowledge of the source material, you will find many winks and in-jokes that can be appreciated well beyond the surface. When “Hashem”, a door to door salesman, comes to Abraham’s tent with an offer of a great nation, they debate the fate of the city of Sodom, eventually settling on the rescue of Abraham’s nephew Lot as long as he does enough pious deeds to warrant being saved. The way the material is presented gives many wonderful winks and humorous touches based on the Torah and commentators.

“The film doesn’t just poke fun at religious figures; it also echoes modern Israeli life”

The film is chock full of layered jokes. The ruler of Sodom smashes a clay vase every time he proclaims himself as such, and some would find it funny that he is simply smashing something.  But when you think about how modern archaeologists in Israel are constantly unearthing shards of pottery throughout the land, it makes you think about how much more brilliant such a bit is. For those who appreciate a good pun, you’ll find everything from the origins of mortgages (invented by a guy named Mort, obviously) to variations on Abraham’s nephew, Lot, who both invents the “Lot-tery” and utters the words “It’s my lot.” Yes, it seems silly on the page, but if you laugh at a joke like “Why was Adam the happiest married man? …He didn’t have a mother in law” then don’t judge. To list the various absurdities of the film would be for naught, but there’s no reason to think that there weren’t conga lines in Sodom.

The film doesn’t just poke fun at religious figures; it also echoes modern Israeli life (and not just the mysteriously enduring love of the sitcom “Friends”). We can all laugh at a city that sells pornographic DVDs for viewing on Yom Kippur, but the reality is that the modern world isn’t so far off. The film takes a sharp right turn when it depicts Hagar and Ishmael, predecessors of the Arabic peoples. The angels Michael and Raphael, dressed as police, are complained to by Hagar for being banished to the desert, to which the angels reply “Forget it, they’re only Arabs.” In the American audience that I saw the film with, we could only squirm at this. But one can imagine how such a deep cutting joke, to audiences Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Arabic alike could be a sort of relief, an opportunity to vent frustrations and just laugh in a safe way. Ultimately, at its best, that’s what comedy can provide.


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