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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Yonaton Shiray

“FOXTROT” My rating: B+

108 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The Israeli film “Foxtrot” already has earned the condemnation of that country’s military for depicting an army coverup of civilian Arab deaths.

As is often the case when the military mind attempts to wrap itself around art, the authorities fail to grasp what’s really at stake.

“Foxtrot” is nothing less than an artful, absurdist and on some levels frustrating dissection of life in a paramilitary state in which the average citizen can feel besieged.  Whether it plays fair in depicting the actions of the Israeli army is impossible to say.  But the film is riveting for the emotional no-man’s land it explores.

It comes by its anxiety honestly. “Foxtrot” was inspired by a moment from writer/director Samuel Maoz’s own life.  Two decades ago after a family spat Maoz ordered his teenage daughter to take a public bus instead of a cab to school. When the bus line was hit by a suicide bomber, the filmmaker spent several agonizing hours before learning his child was on a different bus and safe.

So deeply was Maoz moved by the incident that 20 years later it inspired this film.

(B.T.W.:  Maoz frequently draws his films from his own life. His 2010 feature “Lebanon” was based on his own service in the Israeli army during the 1982 Lebanon war, and was told entirely from the POV of a gunner in a tank — precisely Maoz’s duty.)

Essentially “Foxtrot” is a tale told in three 30-minute segments.

In the first a knock on the door is answered by a middle-aged woman, Daphna Feldmann (Sarah Adler), who takes one look at the army officers standing in the hallway and, instantly understanding that they bring terrible news, screams and falls in a dead faint. (Behind her is a large abstract drawing/painting that looks like some visual manifestation of chaos theory…it won’t be the first time Moaz employs carefully designed physical settings or eerie overhead shots to reveal the inner state of his characters.)

In the next room her husband Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) sits stunned as the soldiers give his fallen wife a shot of sedative and carry her off to the bedroom.  They inform Michael that the couple’s son Jonathan has died while serving his country. They advise him to stay hydrated; periodically he’ll be texted reminders to drink a glass of water. (Clearly, the army has distilled this awful duty down to a cool, unemotional routine.)

All this unfolds with the camera zeroed in on Michael’s features…we only hear the soldier’s voices.

Soon the befuddled, shattered Michael is joined by his brother Avigdor (Yehudi Almagro), who offers to contact their relations. A young rabbi serving as an army chaplain explains the details of Jonathan’s impending military funeral. It’s all very official and remote.  There’s also an uncomfortable visit to Michael’s imperious and borderline senile mother to deliver the  bad news.

Throughout all this Michael’s anguish mutates into anger.  He demands to see Jonathan’s body; the authorities want a closed casket, and Michael  accuses them of putting rocks in the coffin instead of a corpse.  (more…)

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*** aka "The Green Prince"

Mosab Hassan Yousef aka “The Green Prince”

“THE GREEN PRINCE”  My rating: B (Opens Oct. 17 at the Glenwood Arts)

95 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Good guys and bad guys are the bread and butter of movie entertainment.  But in the real world the difference between the two can be as fine as a hair — or impossible to discern at all.

Nadav Schirman’s documentary “The Green Prince” is an in-depth dive into a real-world case of espionage. Deciding which side to cheer for could give you a migraine.

For 10 years Mosab Hassan Yousef, eldest son of one of Hamas’ most respected spokesmen, was a secret agent for the Shin Bet, Israel’s shadowy anti-terrorist agency. He wrote of his experiences in a 2011 memoir; now a perpetual target for assassination, he lives alone somewhere in the U.S.A.

This film is both a visualization of his book and an intriguing expansion.  For the film not only allows Yousef to talk about his past, but it also provides a forum for Gonen Ben Yitzhak, the Israeli handler whose growing friendship with and concern for Yousef led to his own career downfall within Shin Bet.

What’s tricky about “The Green Prince” (that was the nickname Shin Bet officials gave to their valuable informer — green being the color of Hamas) is that Schirman doesn’t play favorites. The documentary is 100 percent non-judgmental.  Each man is allowed to explain himself in head-on “interrogations” (these scenes look and feel a lot like Errol Morris’ intense style). It’s up to us to sort through facts, rationalizations, and personalities to reach our own conclusions.

For many of us, that conclusion will be an acknowledgement that it’s impossible to really understand why people do what they do.

(more…)

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Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington

“THE DEBT” My rating: C+ (Opening wide Aug. 31)

114 minutes | MPAA rating: R

It’s got star power out the wazoo, yet “The Debt” feels slight and perfunctory.

It certainly never achieves the depths it is so clearly aiming for; perhaps this remake of a hit Israeli thriller requires an Israeli audience to truly appreciate the morally conflicted situation it presents.

John Madden’s film takes place in two decades separated by 30 years. In the present (actually the mid-1990’s) we have the publication of a book about one of Mossad’s most celebrated operations: the 1966 capture and elimination of German war criminal Dieter Vogel, the notorious “Surgeon of Birkenau” who conducted fiendish “medical” experiments on Jewish prisoners.

The agents who undertook that mission — Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren), her husband Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkinson) and David Peretz (Ciaran Hinds) — long have been regarded as national heroes.

But the book’s publication opens old wounds, for these three know their story is based on a lie.

Okay, that’s a good premise.

(more…)

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“God Went Surfing with the Devil”

The surfing documentary has been a cinema staple ever since Bruce Brown’s “Endless Summer” back in 1966, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything quite like “God Went Surfing with the Devil,” professional skateboarder Alexander Klein’s heady blend of Middle Eastern politics and wave-catching abandon.

Klein’s doc follows activists with Surfing4Peace who are attempting to do their small part for world peace by shepherding a shipment of surfboards into Gaza. They envision Arab enthusiasts joining their Jewish counterparts in riding the waves of Gaza’s sandy beaches.

Sounds like an easy enough task, (more…)

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