Directed By: Amos Sefer
Starring: Asher Tzarfati, Shmuel Wolf, Lily Avidan
Tag line: "Right-On!"
Trivia: Has been a "Midnight Movie Sensation" in Tel Aviv since its rediscovery in 2007, and has played there once a month since then
The other day, I got the brand-new, limited edition Blu-ray of 1972’s An American Hippie in Israel in the mail. According to the description on the back cover, this “long-lost psychedelic classic” featured “machine-gun wielding mimes, robots, bloodthirsty sharks, free loving debauchery and poignant antiwar monologues by raving mad hippies”.
Two minutes later, I was popping it into my Blu-ray player.
An Israeli counter-culture film directed by Amos Sefer, An American Hippie in Israel stars Asher Tzarfati as Mike, the titular American hippie who’s come to Israel (which is referred to only as “the country” in the movie) to escape his horrible memories of the Vietnam War (Having served in the U.S. military, he personally killed a number of enemy soldiers). Shortly after his arrival, Mike meets Elizabeth (Lily Avidan), an actress-in-training who shares his desire to break free from the world. Soon, the two hook up with another couple (Shmuel Wolf and Tzila Karney), and the four of them head to a deserted island, where they hope to spend the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan. Realizing their boat has mysteriously disappeared, the couples search for some food, but find none. What’s more, there are two men in black suits and white make-up who’ve been following Mike for months, and Mike is convinced they want him dead.
It goes without saying that An American Hippie in Israel is very dated; along with the flower power-era music that occasionally fills the soundtrack, there’s the overall tone of the film, the anti-war, anti-establishment philosophy writer/director Amos Sefer continually shoves down our throats (it starts before the opening credits are even over, when a field full of beautiful flowers is inexplicably flattened by a steamroller, signifying man’s encroachment on nature, as the sound of machine-gun fire slowly drowns out the music). As far as the acting goes, Asher Tzarfati does occasionally come across as genuine, but then maybe that’s because the actors surrounding him are piss-poor (Lily Avidan sounds as if she’s simply reading her lines off a cue card). The dialogue isn’t anything to write home about, either. Shortly after picking him up on the side of the road, Elizabeth asks Mike where he’s from, and he tells her he’s an American from New York. “I hear it’s quite a place”, she says. “It sure is” replies Mike. Seriously riveting stuff, isn’t it?
Here’s the kicker, though: I loved An American Hippie in Israel! Loved it! This movie is so wild, so goofy, and so ridiculously self-important that you can’t help but admire it. I laughed out loud when Mike walked out of the airport and the camera pulled back to reveal he had been barefoot the entire time, one of many surreal images An American Hippie in Israel has to offer. Take, for instance, Mike’s first on-screen encounter with the so-called mimes that have been following him. As Mike and Elizabeth are driving down the road, a black car darts in front of them. Mike yells for Elizabeth to stop, then gets out to confront the occupants, who happen to be the two mimes, now standing, side by side, next to their vehicle. They silently stare at Mike as he asks them a few pointed questions, and don’t react at all when he angrily calls them “scum of the earth” and “shitheads”. It’s a hell of a bizarre scene, but is only the first of many (I can’t even begin to describe Mike’s dream sequence).
If the opportunity ever presents itself, I would definitely recommend you check out An American Hippie in Israel. Take it from me: you won’t believe your eyes!