‘Aviva’: No Little Miss Sunshine

As the world goes Oscar wild on Sunday night with babel over "Babel" and parting shots at "The Departed," Shemi Zarhin can revel in his own pursuit of happiness.

Gone Hollywood? Gone Israel!

After all, the talent from Tiberias watched as his latest directorial effort, "Aviva My Love," was welcomed lovingly by audiences with the equivalent of three Israeli Oscars for its tale of the title character from Tiberias trying to tap into her talents as a writer and finding self-realization — and roadblocks — not such a novel idea at all.

No little Miss Sunshine this Aviva, shadowed by the sham of a family that holds her back. But, as always with a Zarhin project, it is the Jewish journey — and not the jilted dreams — that make desert Don Quixotes such quintessential icons.

And it's all there on the screen as "Aviva My Love" opens the Israeli Film Festival of Greater Philadelphia — the first of an octet of films of occasional surprises and many delights — this Saturday night at 8 at International House.

Zarhin is in the house; he is due to speak after the film.

And the Israeli has much to say about the world and its social insecurities, whether they be explored in the desert sands or the Diaspora. After all, this professor of film professes to not know why life is the way it is, which makes him a determined Talmudist of global topsy-turvy.

"People like Aviva are natural to me," says the director whose "Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi" found a welcome mat put out for him worldwide as it took home some 20 international prizes.

What Zarhin prizes most is the opportunity to size up self-doubt and costume it in confidence. "The problem of Aviva is she doesn't believe in herself; she doesn't think of herself as a writer."

More than Hope
Accept the premise; accept oneself. "This is more than a film about hope," says Zarhin. It is about the "oy" ceding to the "I."

"At the end," muses the director, "Aviva is able to use the 'I.' "

No surprise Zarhin eyes the role closer than others; with all the characters he's created, "she is the closest to me; I can understand her and identify with her," even if she is not him.

What she is to him is a gold mine of golden statues and acclaim. The film, he points out without the least bit of bravura, "is the most successful Israeli film in the last two decades."

Does such a confident claim about such a diffident character reveal a director daring to be great? Don't take the dare, he warns. Even with an armful of accolades and praise and plaudits from the public, Zarhin has never met a self-doubt he didn't like.

Sure of himself? Surely not, he says.

Confiding, he concludes that confidence will come one day.

But alas, he says with a shrug in his voice, "not yet." 



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