To judge by the more than 30 narrative features, documentaries and television shows selected for this years Los Angeles Israel Film Festival, Israeli cinema turns ever more inward from the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians to focus on the tiny states rapid shift from its early consensual idealism to the vibrantly fragmented mess characteristic of pluralistic societies everywhere. With that in mind, its easy to see why writer-director Shemi Zarhins Aviva My Love, which opens this years festival, was Israels biggest domestic hit in 2006. The titular heroine (played by the admirably understated Assi Levy) is a hotel cook and fledgling writer in the predominantly Sephardic northern town of Tiberias. She is introduced to a famous writer who promises to nurture her career, then exploits her, exacerbating her own insecurities and bringing to a head simmering tensions in her family. This funny, moving and sharply written family drama not only honors Israels large but cinematically neglected community of North African Jews, but confers on them a psychological and artistic life independent of their underdog status. A far guiltier pleasure set among Israels Egyptian-Jewish population, Dina Zvi-Riklis Three Mothers is an enjoyably over-the-top soap opera about triplet sisters, prematurely deprived of their mother, who grow up to be more loyal siblings than they are parents or spouses. Felix Gerchikovs absorbing Children of CCCP frames the plight of disaffected Russian immigrant youth in a drama about a bunch of ill-assorted street kids efforts to form a soccer team, while Yuval Shaffermans sophisticated Things Behind the Sun channels Jules Feiffer in a drama about the internal warfare of an upper-class, emotionally strangled family. Also playing is Israels candidate for the Oscars, Dror Shauls Sweet Mud, a sullen drama of kibbutz life with a chip on its shoulder so large one wonders how the movie managed to carry off this years world cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Noteworthy among the documentaries is Joel Blasberg and Arnie Pelts searing Withdrawal From Gaza, about the planned Israeli withdrawal from parts of the occupied territories that pitted Jewish settlers against leftists committed to returning Israel to its pre-1967 borders. Israels actress diva Gila Almagor and Sony Pictures honcho Amy Pascal will be honored with special achievement awards. (Sunset 5, Town Center 5, Fallbrook 7 and other local venues; March 7-22. www.israelfilmfestival.com.)
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