In recent years, American audiences have become familiar with Israeli television through its frequent overseas adaptations. The most famous of these, of course, is the hit show Homeland, a take-off of the Israeli series Prisoners of War. But with the advent of online streaming, U.S. audiences no longer have to wait for an American outlet to pick up and remake Israel’s greatest hits. Instead, they can just watch the originals with English subtitles.
Case in point: Netflix. Of late, the media giant has quietly been acquiring the rights to some of the Jewish state’s best television and film. This month alone, they will have added the country’s new Best Picture winner and its newly-crowned Best Drama Series. Looking for something to watch over the weekend while escaping the winter chill? Here are a few recommendations:
Added to Netflix on December 2, Fauda follows a team of undercover Israeli operatives who work within Palestinian communities to bring down a Hamas terrorist kingpin. As the team integrates into its surroundings, the lines between the Israelis and the Palestinians increasingly blur. Lauded for its realism and sympathetic, humanizing portrayals of Palestinian characters—including terrorists—the show draws on the expertise of its creators, including Haaretz and Times of Israel correspondent Avi Issacharoff. Much of its dialogue is in Arabic. In June, Fauda won Best Drama Series at Israel’s Ophir Awards.
B’nei Arubah (Hostages)
In 2013, Israeli producer and actor Chaim Sharir sold a story to both American and Israeli TV. The premise: After an Israeli surgeon is tapped to operate on the prime minister, a team of home invaders led by a decorated officer takes her family hostage, and demands that she kill the head of state on the operating table. In America, the prime minister became the president and the story became Hostages, a colossal flop starring Dylan McDermott and Toni Collette that was panned by reviewers and cancelled after one season. But in Israel, the story became the pulse-pounding B’nei Arubah, starring Yair Lotan and Ayelet Zurer, and was a hit not just in Israel but in Europe, too. Viewers’ only frustration will be having to wait for Netflix to add the show’s second Israeli season.
A dark 2014 comedy about female soldiers doing dead-end tasks in Israel’s stifling army bureaucracy, Zero Motivation was nominated for 12 Ophir Awards, with its writer/director Talya Lavie taking home Best Director and Best Screenplay, and its lead Dana Ivgy winning Best Actress. The film has since been picked up by Amy Pohler and Natasha Lyonne for adaptation into an overseas TV series.
A Borrowed Identity (Dancing Arabs)
Based on the debut novel of celebrated Arab-Israeli author Sayed Kashua, A Borrowed Identity (or “Dancing Arabs,” as the book and Israeli film release were titled), follows Eyad, a young Arab boy who is accepted into a prestigious Israeli boarding school and who struggles to navigate the racial politics of Israeli society and his Palestinian nationalist home. Alternatively depressing, hilarious, and poignant, the film was nominated for four Ophir Awards.
Israel’s latest Best Picture winner, and its entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Oscars, takes place entirely in Arabic. Sand Storm, the debut feature film of writer/director Elite Zexer, follows the story of a Bedouin mother whose husband takes a second, younger wife. Hailed as a trailblazing feminist film from a prodigal female filmmaker, and winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the movie will be coming to Netflix on December 15.
Of course, if the above list feels a little too high concept for you, well, there’s always this zombie apocalypse slasher flick set in Jerusalem’s Old City: