Thursday, December 22, 2011


Cast: Yiftach Klein, Yaara Pelzig, Michael Mushonov, Menashe Noi, Michael Aloni, Gal Hoyberger, Meital Berdah, Shaul Mizrahi, Rona-Lee Shimon, Ben Adam
Director: Nadav Lapid
Runtime: 105 min.
Language: Hebrew
Country: Israel
Verdict: For topicality alone this is one hell of a film. Comparisons to Full Metal Jacket wouldn't be misguided. And in Mr. Lapid it is some talent we have here.
Genre: Drama, Thriller

        The film opens to a bunch of cyclists, five of them I guess, peddling down a hill, and I wonder why are they even bothering when they can just glide their way down. The central guy, strategically placed within the frame, pedals his way into a close-up, and with his pursed lips and sunglasses he immediately reminds me of everything that is going on with the personality of Salman Khan in Dabangg.

He is Yaron (Mr. Klein), a member of an elite anti-terrorist squad, which we later come to learn but already seem to know, courtesy the title and the opening few frames. These guys stop to have one of them echo-sessions, and also declare the land as the most beautiful in the world. In their broad shoulders there is a certain surety, a righteousness that is palpable. You might even call it vanity, and I would agree. When Yaron comes out of the bath and looks at himself in the mirror (a marvelously precise and un-flashy moment), our perception from the opening close-up is transferred (or reflected) into the film via the mirror. We do not need a second invitation to conclude that in Mr. Lapid we have a tremendous craftsman we better keep a tab on.
        Moments later, we see him dance for his pregnant wife towering over his wife (courtesy the masterful low-angles), and provide her with a labor-helping massage – a parental action that also doubles up as a sexual interaction owing to the position (read alpha-male). The wife’s a kid to be taken care of – a classic macho (as opposed to patriarchal) behavior, and later in the film he carries her in his arms as they climb two floors. Mr. Lapid pays special attention to the numbers here – the number of floors, the number of kilometers, the number of push-ups, the number of birthday bumps, the number of catches. God knows how vital numbers are as a goal to be achieved for the macho, a virtual aim (peak) in the absence of the real. A set of five 40-set of pushups is what I need to feel good about myself. The audience is me. While in a lift, Yaron does some pull-ups. Little targets turning into little triumphs for the ego turning into little reasons to feel good about the self. That Yaron and his buddies are members of the anti-terrorist squad only fortifies their righteousness, or masculinity.
        Or, virility. Mr. Lapid seems to view this virility as an offshoot of boyish behavior. They cycle, have courtyard barbecue parties, fight out in games, wear uniforms but walk out in the sun as opposed to being hinged to the interiors of an office, sit at cafeterias and drink beers and judge female posteriors, and in the case of Yaron even flirt. They always walk in groups. One might argue some of the behavior is downright caricature-ish, and I would only reply (not defend) that Mr. Lapid’s film is intensely political. On the scale where Cristi (Politist, Adjectiv) represents the average working middle-class, Yaron and his buddies seem to be the privileged elite (he has a super-sized LED and remote-operated blinds). Not a single shot presents them doing anything like work, except indulge in "action" involving guns. Maybe, the long period of relative peace (since Lebanon), the anti-terrorist squad has precious little to do. As far as topicality is concerned, this period is Policeman’s jumping point. Yaron wants to buy a house with a courtyard for his soon-to-be-born daughter, and that gentle reminder of the Israeli housing-bubble sort of works as a hint for the film’s inclinations.
        Those inclinations formally introduce themselves through Shira (Ms. Pelzig), whose car is kicked and punched and shattered by one of them adolescent gangs whose economical marginalization has given them the certainty to carry out hate crimes. Mr. Lapid is shrewd here, immediately cutting to Shira and her friends indulging in a shooting exercise in the mountains, and for a moment we assume that Shira and her friends would seek revenge. This momentary assumption on our part is probably not unintentional, as we later learn in a bar, where Shira confesses a rather different bend to her ideological stance – much less Marxist in its leanings, and pro rich. It is an abrupt shift in the narrative, from Yaron to Shiri, which Olivier Père compares to Mulholland Dr. and Certified Copy, a shift which opens itself to a description that is a whole lot messier than a straightforward Yaron to Shiri. From the very first frame, Yaron, as a (super)hero does in every such film that has ever been made, has this uncanny ability to hog the camera, best represented in the little fight-game the buddies play. He is popular, and in the barbecue party drops in every group to resounding hi-fives and shoulder hugs. The film’s narrative until this shift is all about Yaron, and his presence in every frame of the film until then, the camera either tracking with him or fixed on him.
        Any such assumptions about Shiri being the central figure of the film post-shift is slowly dispelled by drawing parallel narrative strands for each of the members of the group, making each of them distinct individuals and despite the plot diffusing any notion of a central figure. These four youngsters, or let us just say misguided comrades for convenience, are neatly placed around the frame, or compartmentalized within the frame, and the motivations and relations are slowly drawn out, or exposed, thereby decentralizing the center of power (or distributing our center of attention). A moment in particular achieves some spectacular political connotations, where two of the comrades – one the supposed leader Nathanael (Mr. Aloni) and the other I forget the name of – walk by a street violin player and the latter is critical of his abilities. The leader dares him to take his position and play, which he does thereby impressing his leader, and at that moment this misguided youth brigade both literally and figuratively assume the responsibility of the economically challenged. It is a strange sort of music he plays (although I scrape the bottom of the barrel as far as taste in music is concerned), and I wonder what they do with the money they collect afterwards.
        Mr. Lapid doesn’t mock the ideology but the confusion and the silly roots of such a revolution. These kids are in search of an aim, a target themselves, and when Shiri reads out figures (the worth of three billionaires) it draws a stark reminder to Yaron’s need for numbers. There is an order in and around Yaron, that contra to the arbitrary nature around these revolutionaries, who in a way are themselves vying for our attention, like say Carlos. It is need to prove to themselves more than any belief or ideology. I’ve read elsewhere that slogans from the film were chanted during the , and one can easily look for motivation from what happened at Tahrir between the cops and the crowd. Yet, probably because of the numbers, because of the order, because of the machismo, and because of the pride, Israeli forces are reputed to be a different breed. In those final moments, when Shiri’s comrades fall by the wayside, and the desperation of her belief finally brings within her a surety, Mr. Lapid discovers a moment as true and fragile as anything. Looking at that non-Arab face, Yaron’s certainty is rattled. It is a historical meeting, when these two narratives collide, and a defining moment for any nation.

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