Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. Israel/Switzerland/Germany/France, 2017. Bord Cadre Films. Screenplay by Samuel Maoz. Cinematography by Giora Bejach. Produced by Marc Baschet, Viola Fugen, Cedomir Kolar, Eitan Mansuri, Michel Merkt, Michael Weber. Music by Ophir Leibovitch, Amit Poznansky. Production Design by Arad Sawat. Costume Design by Hila Bargiel, Laura Sheim. Film Editing by Arik Leibovitch, Guy Nemesh. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
Samuel Maoz follows his visceral Lebanon with another look at military culture in Israel that goes beyond the battlefield. Told in three chapters, the first begins with Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler as a Tel Aviv couple who are informed by army personnel that their son has been killed in the line of duty. The news renders the deceased’s mother catatonic while bringing up old, painful memories of trauma for his father. The army then reveals that a mistake has been made, their son is fine and it was someone else with the same name who was killed, but this only makes Ashkanazi more agitated with the military’s incompetence and he demands that his son be brought home immediately. In the next section, we are taken to the barren outpost that the son has been stationed at, he and his fellow soldiers drying out under the hot sun while manning their checkpoint, their boredom only periodically interrupted by the occasional wandering camel or rare commuter. The sequence climaxes in a tragedy that explodes out of the simplest misunderstanding, leading on to the third chapter that returns us to the city and reunites loved ones experiencing the aftermath of their painful situation. Excellent acting and cinematography are a plus in what is a frequently absorbing melodrama that has, not surprisingly, become a controversial talking point in its home country. Films questioning Israel’s relationship with its neighbouring states made by that country’s left-leaning artists are nothing new, but a film that presents the IDF as at first inept and then corrupt is a step above the usual provocation and it’s no surprise that it has been condemned by top-ranking government officials (while also sweeping the country’s awards ceremony and being selected as Israel’s Oscar selection). Ignoring that noise, however, if that’s at all possible, looking at the film on its merits leaves one with something that frequently undercuts its own powerful content with too much self-congratulation. A great number of scenes are weighted down by gorgeously controlled images that demand that you label them as artistic triumphs, while the more provocative themes are related through visual metaphors that are almost pedantic in their obviousness. Askenazi and Adler’s chemistry is well worth the effort, especially when you get to their wonderful scene in the kitchen in the film’s final act.