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SALLAH SHABATI (1964, IZR) – 7.5/10

Ephraim Kishon is a famous Israeli writer, humorist and satirist who is still one of the most read writers in the history of that country. He was born as Ferenc Hoffman in 1920 in Budapest, he even managed to escape from the Nazi concentration camp, and after he returned to the Hungarian capital after the war, the communist regime began to persecute him. Therefore, he moved to the newly formed state of Israel in 1949, immediately changed his name, and less than two years after settling in Kibbutz Kfar Hahoresh, he began writing satirical columns for Israeli newspapers. His columns became instantly popular and brought him fame, followed by books, and perhaps less well known, Kishon was an equally successful filmmaker.

His first film, namely “Sallah Shabati”, was not only the most watched in Israeli cinemas, but this sharp social satire on life in kibbutzim was also nominated for an Oscar in the category of best foreign film. Kibbutzim are settlements specific to Israel that actually function as a kind of commune. These are closed settlements, members support themselves there by working in agriculture, membership is voluntary, and members work together and share all property. Kibbutzim played an important role in the first years of the modern state of Israel when Jews from all over the world immigrated there, and it was kibbutzim that were the first places many of these people immigrated to.

The main protagonist of Kishon’s film, the Egyptian Jew Sallah Shabati, played by the later great actor Chaim Topol, decided to move to one such kibbutz with his family. Topol is probably best remembered for his leading role in Norman Jewison’s “Fiddler on the Roof”, and his role in Kishon’s satire was also his first film role, and he instantly became a big star. However, instead of a kibbutz, that poor settler with a pregnant wife and seven children will end up temporarily in a transit camp where they have been assigned a kind of shantytown in which an honest herdsman would not even put his pigs.

We follow the attempts of that ingenious but also incredibly lazy guy to get money for a better house since no kibbutz wants to receive them, and the ways in which he will try to get money are a joke at the expense of stereotypes about Israel and its inhabitants at the time . In his books, Kishon was also known for his venomous and satirical descriptions of Israeli society, and everything he did in literature, with “Sallah Shabati” he successfully transferred to film. His depiction of life in kibbutzim as places where equality and equality are only nominal, while the reality is fundamentally different, caused fierce reactions among ardent Zionists, but the Israeli audience still adores his first and best-known film.