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A sweet treat
One of the most-watched show in the world, besides sporting events, is the Eurovision Song Contest. The 60-year old competition makes American Idol look like a middle-school talent show.
For six decades, Eurovision has ruled the roost, launching the careers of Abba, Celine Dion (it’s really not their fault), Julio Iglesias and others, and foisted upon an unsuspecting world the song “Volare.”
Of course, here in the United States, most of us have never heard of Eurovision, because if it doesn’t happen here, it doesn’t matter. But the broadcasts routinely bring a viewership larger than the population of the United States.
If there is any justice in the world, however, Americans will now know Eurovision, or at least its fictional counterpart Universong, from Eytan Fox’ film Cupcakes, out on DVD from Strand Releasing.
Fox, possibly Israel’s most prominent director on the international circuit, is best known for films like Yossi and Jagger, serious films about being gay in contemporary Israel. This is a departure, to say the least; a light-hearted, life-affirming comedy that lets viewers know that following their dreams and opening themselves to new experiences brings with it the possibility of greatness. Oh, and when the camera crew is away, the Minister of Culture might eat pork.
Loosely based on two of Fox’ friends who jokingly entered a song into the Israeli competition to pick an act to send on to Eurovision, Cupcakes revolves around a group of friends living in an apartment building who, after watching the terrible Israeli entry into the Universong contest, decided to send in their own song, never believing that they would get chosen and sent to compete.
There’s the assistant to the Minister of Culture, whose stern father disapproves of such frivolity; the lesbian singer whose girlfriend pushes her to go through with it; the baker whose husband left for Thailand after being treated like her subordinate; the successful attorney who is sleeping with her boss but doesn’t want to be treated like a piece of meat any more; the shy blogger with a lisp who is crushing on the guy who produces the videos she watches online, and the gay guy whose boyfriend is the closeted scion of the hummus magnate who sponsors Israel’s entry into the competition.
Getting selected, however, was the easy part. Now they have to try to keep their vision and souls intact as the creative team try to push them into a glammed-up, overly-produced version of what is supposed to be a song sung from the heart.
After a lifetime as a viewer of Eurovision, Fox found himself completely distanced from a spectacle he once enjoyed so much.
“In the past few years, I have been occupied with making ‘serious films.’ I’ve traveled the world with them and in doing so have spoken, via those films, about Israel,” Fox said. “One evening in a Berlin hotel, while flipping through the channels on my TV, I came across the Eurovision.”
“Suddenly I realized that I didn’t even know who was representing Israel that year,” he continued. “I turned off the set and in a surge of momentum not characteristic of me, I moved to my computer and wrote the synopsis for Bananas [an earlier name for the film].”
One thing his friends wanted to do, as do the performers in the film, is take Eurovision/Universong back to its roots, where a singer comes out, nods to the orchestra, and starts singing, instead of the sturm und drang spectacle, with “Vikings shooting fire, ice skating, background singers emerging from the soloist’s enormous dress, etc.”
“I know that one cannot really turn back time. I know that art today finds it more and more difficult to sway people from their point of view. Films that change something are usually of the serious nature, with a declared and distinct outlook on the world,” Fox noted. “But every now and then, once in a while, along comes a movie which acts a little differently. A high-quality romantic comedy - a splendid, feel-good movie, which, like a great pop song, convinces you that everything is possible.”
Fox has done that, putting a strong script in front of talented performers, and if it’s not as dreadfully serious as his earlier works, that’s just icing on the cake. Or, in this case, cupcake.