Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid, who headed the jury panel at the 53rd International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, has left film enthusiasts and even political figures divided with his remarks on the controversial Vivek Agnihotri film The Kashmir Files. Speaking at the closing ceremony of IFFI 2022 on the night of Monday, November 28, Lapid had referred to the film as “vulgar” and a “propaganda movie”, adding that the jury was “disturbed and shocked” to see the film being screened at the prestigious film festival. The 47-year-old filmmaker’s comments went on to garner appreciation and ire, rekindling the debate surrounding The Kashmir Files, which has been accused by many of weaving a skewed narrative around Kashmir by dwelling on the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits alone and vilifying and delegitimising the pain of Kashmiri Muslims. Ambassador of Israel to India Naor Gilon subsequently alleged, in a series of tweets on Tuesday, that Lapid was clearly drawing connections between his dislike of Israeli politics and the film, seemingly referring to the filmmaker’s stand on the Israel-Palestine conflict.True to the Israeli envoy’s claim, Lapid has rarely shied away from voicing his dissent towards the political situation in Israel. Case in point is Ahed’s Knee, his fourth feature and co-winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2021, a gashing commentary on the Palestine conflict and Israel’s autocratic censorship. The autofiction film follows Y, an Israeli filmmaker in his mid-forties, who is preparing an experimental film about 16-year-old Palestine activist Ahed Tamimi who went to jail for slapping an Israeli soldier. It may be noted that Lapid was also among the 250 Israeli filmmakers who had signed an open letter to protest against the launch of the controversial Shomron (Samaria/West Bank) Film Fund earlier this year, amid allegations that its founder had been putting pressure on the Israel Film Fund to bar films that were critical of Israel from receiving subsidies. Lapid and other signatories later stated that they will neither seek funding from nor cooperate with the Shomron Fund, further urging the Israeli Academy of Film and Television not to partake in “whitewashing the Occupation”. Lapid, born in Tel Aviv in 1975, had directed three features prior to Ahed’s Knee — namely Policeman (2011), The Kindergarten Teacher (2014), and Synonyms (2019) — besides the several shorts to his credit. His debut feature film Policeman, which delves into the complexities of the Israeli police, had won the Locarno Festival Special Jury Prize at the Locarno International Film Festival in 2011. Back in 2014, Lapid’s The Kindergarten Teacher was also screened at the IFFI, where Sarit Larry — who played the film’s protagonist — won the Best Actor (Female) award. Two years later, the filmmaker went on to be named a member of the jury of the International Critics’ Week section of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. In 2019, Lapid had triggered controversy with his comments about the “Israeli soul” while speaking about his film Synonyms — the story of a young Israeli man who travels to Paris to flee his national identity — in an interview with the NOW magazine. “The film talks about the collective Israeli soul and the Israeli collective soul is a sick soul. Something in the deepest essence of the Israeli existence is false – is rotten. It’s not just Benjamin Netanyahu – it’s not special to Israel. But, at the same time, I think this Israeli sickness or nature is characterised by young Israeli men, muscular, smiling, who don’t raise any questions and don’t have any doubts. They are extremely proud of being Israeli. They have a totally dichotomous vision of existence: Us versus all the others,” he said in the interview, inviting the wrath of Israeli nationalists at the time. Synonyms, meanwhile, went on to win the Golden Bear award at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival.Elaborating on his relationship with Israel and the dynamic between the country’s government and its film industry in an interview with Deadline last year, he said, “I felt that the Israeli state had become unbearable for me. Synonyms was presented as very critical towards Israel, but then people watched it more deeply and said it was also a love song for Israel, and that it was ambivalent. I totally agree. With [Ahed’s Knee], I decided I couldn’t bear the ambivalence anymore. I felt a necessity to be frontal. However, when I watched this movie I was still amazed that my intimacy towards Israel was sneaking in and penetrating the fame. I tried to be as direct and brutal and honest and sincere as I could be in the script. The truth is terrible. Now that I’ve watched it, I feel it’s full of rage but also intimacy.”Ahed’s Knee is available to watch on Mubi.Read: How blockbuster films are aiding the Hindutva nationalism project

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