Embracing the Melodrama Part II #42: An American Hippie In Israel (dir by Amos Sefer)


I had to rewatch the 1972 film An American Hippie In Israel before I understood that it’s one of the best films ever made.  I know that may seem like a bold statement.  I know that there are critics who have declared the exact opposite and have said that An American Hippie In Israel is actually one of the worst films of all time.  Those critics are wrong and, as always, I am right.

I’ll say it again.

An American Hippie In Israel is one of the best films ever made.

Now, when I first saw the movie, I will admit that I was a little bit disappointed.  This was largely because I had been waiting for nearly seven years for a chance to see An American Hippie.  I first saw the trailer as an extra on the Grindhouse Releasing DVD of I Drink Your Blood.  The trailer was so bizarre and the film’s title held such promise (come on, who wouldn’t want to see a movie called An American Hippie In Israel?) that I found myself obsessed with seeing the film.  Unfortunately, reality can never measure up to the promise of obsession.

So, when I finally saw An American Hippie In Israel on TCM, I was initially disappointed.  It was not the film that I had imagined it would be.  But then, for this review, I rewatched it.  And freed from my own expectations and demands, I discovered that I could now appreciate An American Hippie In Israel as one of the greatest films of all time.

Why is it so great?

Because it tells the truth.  Everyone in the world says that they want peace.  We give out awards for promoting peace.  Politicians gives speeches about the importance of peace.  Every religion is help up as being a peaceful religion.  On twitter, after every atrocity, people talk about how much they wish we could just live in peace.  We are encouraged to use hashtags like #peace and #love and we’re told that this is somehow going to change the world.  People talk about dropping out of society, rejecting all of the demands of the establishment, and somehow, this is going to end all war and destruction.

And what we all know and are far too often scared to admit is that none of this is going to make a bit of difference.

There will never be any peace.  There will always be war.  Evil will always exist.  All new societies are destined to become just as corrupt and fucked up as the old society.  Eventually, humanity will end up destroying itself and there’s nothing that we can do to stop that from happening.  The world is doomed and all we can hope for is that we’ll already be gone whenever things fall apart for the last time.

It’s not a happy picture, I know.  But it’s a reality that few films are willing to truly embrace.  Except, of course, for An American Hippie In Israel.  At first glance, An American Hippie In Israel may look like a typical psychedelic oddity but scratch underneath the surface and you’ll discover one of the darkest and most morbid films ever made.

Mike (Asher Tzarfati) is an American who is hitchhiking through Israel.  When an actress named Elizabeth (Lily Avidan) gives him a ride, she asks, “Are you a hippie?”

Mike thinks for a minute and then replies, “Yeah…right on, baby.”

As Mike explains to Elizabeth, he became a hippie after serving in the Vietnam War.  Mike tells her that he was only 19 years old when he was drafted and he was a virgin.  Before Mike had even had a chance to make love for the first time, the Army had turned him into a murderer.  And you know what?  Asher Tzarfati totally nails this monologue.  In fact, Tzarfati gives a good and heartfelt performance throughout the film.

Elizabeth and Mike take a walk around Tel Aviv and, as they do, they’re joined by more and more hippies.  Soon, all of the hippies are gathered in one warehouse and they listen as their new leader, Mike, gives a speech about how they’re leaving society and rejecting war and greed.  Instead, they’re just going to dance and love.  All of the hippies cheer.  All of the hippies smile.  All of the hippies dance!

However, there’s two mimes who have been following Mike around Israel.  We never learn who they are and neither one of them ever says a word.  Mike claims that they’ve been following him since before he even arrived in Israel.  The mimes suddenly appear at the hippie gathering and gun everyone down.  The only survivors of the massacre are Mike, Elizabeth, Komo (Shmuel Wolf), and Komo’s girlfriend, Francoise (Tzila Karney).

Fleeing in Elizabeth’s blue convertible, the four of them drive down to the coast.  Mike suggests that the four of them take a boat out to a small island and start their own society.  However, after getting to the island and spending a night celebrating, they wake up to discover that the boat has vanished and so has a goat that they brought along with them.  Elizabeth’s car sits on the mainland and when Mike tries to swim out to it, he discovers that the water is full of sharks.

Trapped on the island, the four of them quickly turn against each other.  Soon, Mike and Komo are building a wall down the middle of the island.  However, when the goat mysteriously reappears, Mike and Komo are forced to face each other.

All the while, those mimes watch from the mainland…

An American Hippie In Israel is a pretentious film but its pretentious in the best possible way.  While the film is usually cited as being a psychedelic film in the style of Electric Shades of Grey, An American Hippie In Israel actually plays out more like a satire on hippie culture.  No matter how much Mike and his friends declare that they’re changing the world, they continually prove themselves to be incapable of living up to their high ideals.  For all of his self-righteous fury, Mike is ultimately just as destructive as those two mimes.

Surprisingly well-acted, visually impressive (the Israeli landscape looks beautiful and the film features a wonderfully surreal dream sequence), and wonderfully defiant of both the establishment and the counterculture, An American Hippie In Israel is one of the best films of which you may have never heard.

Scenes I Love – “You see..I’m Gatsby.”

When Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby came out in 2013, I skipped seeing the movie in the theatre to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel first. I realize now I missed out, but as the film is on cable, I’m able to watch it at my leisure. One of my favorite scenes in the movie has actually become a meme for celebrations and snarky quips.

A little background. Our narrator, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) receives an invitation to Jay Gatsby’s party, and in true Luhrmann style, it’s extremely grand. Fireworks, jazz bands and tons of liquor all around, but Gatsby (who no one seems to have met) is nowhere to be seen. As Nick makes his way through the celebrations, he finds himself talking to an individual whom the audience only knows by the onyx ring he wears. The camera purposely dances around revealing who he is for a few seconds. It’s here that Gatsby, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, then shows everyone that if you have to introduce yourself to a person, there’s no finer way to do so than to offer them a glass of champagne with Rhapsody in Blue and fireworks exploding in the background.

Nick describes the moment as follows:

“His smile was one of those rare smiles that you may come across four or five times in life. It seemed to understand you and believe in you just as you would like to be understood and believed in.”

Luhrmann and DiCaprio just totally sell that moment. This guy could sell a boat to someone living in the desert. Since no one knows who he is, there’s an air of mystery to him, much like Edmond Dantes when he returns as The Count of Monte Cristo.