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Policemen and terrorists at odds

The kidnapping scene from Nadav Lapid’s Policeman.
By Pablo Suarez

Israeli counter-terrorism officers make for a slow burner with a moral bent

“This is the most beautiful country in the world,” proudly proclaims Yaron (Yiftach Klein), a member of an elite counter-terrorism unit of Jerusalem Force, as he rests like a semi-god high atop a mountain after a bike ride with his mates. Virility is a trait they all share, as well as certain cockiness that makes them stand out from the crowd. You could say that their presence is imposing. It’s meant to be. On a more personal note, Yaron’s wife is about to give birth any minute — in the meantime, he checks himself out in the mirror while holding a friends’ baby. It seems he feels he’s one great-looking dad. But not a very good husband, because when he’s with his mates and his wife is out of sight, he tries to seduce a not-so-naive fifteen-year old waitress by showing her his gun and using a bit of smooth talk.

Moreover, Yaron and the rest of the “macho” unit are being investigated for the death of four Palestinian civilians in a previous operation to kill two most wanted terrorists. In order to clear the rest of the charges, squad member Ariel has agreed to play scapegoat — consider he’s stricken with a brain tumour and will soon die anyway, they argue. Ariel is an internal disease that must be removed for the survival of the team. So you get to see the policemen and their routine, you learn about them and about what makes them tick.

And then there’s another story, that of a small group of spoiled brats posing as young revolutionaries who claim they care for the unemployed and the poor when, in fact, they live a bourgeois life of privileges typical of pseudo intellectuals who fail to see how complex attaining real justice is. They don’t seem to have any other activity. They have so much free time that being a revolutionary is a mere hobby, even if they like to think otherwise. They have a good education, they speak foreign languages, and they also are planning to kidnap three wealthy millionaires at a wedding and have the news broadcast as they read a manifesto exposing Israeli socio-economic disparities. That’s as profoundly revolutionary as they get.

These two stories eventually intersect in a climatic ending that proves what a compelling feature the Israel production Policeman, by Nadav Lapid, is. For starters, it’s extremely well shot with an austere mise en scene and cinematography that make you feel the iciness and dehumanization of the environment. Furthermore, it’s one hell of a slow burner. That is to say, its narrative is built slowly, in a serene yet subtly disturbing tone. It’s all understated, but never aloof or slightly indifferent. Then, toward the end, come the — sometimes unexpected — outbursts of violence as Lapid shows how the policemen, the revolutionaries, and the millionaires represent the parts of a fragmented country with irreconcilable differences. Expect impersonal, cut and dried violence, which makes death all the more appalling.

But it’s not the kidnapping itself that interests director Nadav Lapid. It works the other way around: addressing this particular event metaphorically gives way to a portrait of a much larger scope. Lapid is talking about both the symptoms and consequences of living in a society at times of social unrest and protest. It surely reflects the reality of Israel, but its outlook is more of a universal nature. It points out the complexities of the situation, but it ably eschews all naive solutions.

Shira (Yaara Pelzig), one of the revolutionaries’ leaders talks in slogans and poems. For instance, when she addresses the young, beautiful bride, daughter of the capitalist: “You are not a woman, but a bride. You have no face, you’ve got make up. You have no breasts, but a perfectly fitted bra. You have no body, you just have this dress. And this dress is made exactly in the size of your personality.” As for the policemen, they are shown not without a touch of ridiculousness — always roughhousing, always exercising, not leaving the apartment without doing push-ups first. Actually, it seems there’s not a single level-headed character to anchor the movie for they all live immersed in violence in all its shapes and colours. Overall, they are hard to like or empathize with, and that’s a plus for better understanding the scenario.

Winner of the Best Film and Best Director at last year’s BAFICI, and recipient of the Special Jury Prize at Locarno, Policeman is a movie smart enough not to take anyone’s side or further a particular agenda, even though it clearly signals that something must be done to bridge the enormous gap between the very rich and the very poor. The huge problem is that nobody has the slightest clue as to what actions to take. Even worse, they are hitting all the wrong buttons.

@PablSuarez

PRODUCTION NOTES

Policeman/ Ha-shoter. Israel, 2011. Written and directed by: Nadav Lapid. Cinematography: Shai Goldman. Editing: Era Lapid. With: Yiftach Klein, Yaara Pelzig, Gal Hoyberger, Michael Moshonov, Michael Aloni. Produced by: Itai Tamir. Distributed by: Zeta Films. Running time: 105 minutes.

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