Monday, June 9, 2014

Home grown terrorism in Israel: Nadav Lapid's intriguing POLICEMAN opens in NYC and L.A.

A most interesting ensemble character study, as well as a study in home-grown terrorism, Israeli entitlement, and that country's enormous income gap between rich and poor (hmmm... that's timely), POLICEMAN-- an unsettling documentary-like narrative movie from Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid-- is finally hitting theaters here in the USA, thanks to Corinth Releasing. First seen in 2011 (it played the NY Film Fest that year), the movie has appeared at ten festivals internationally and seen theatrical release in a number of countries, though not in Israel itself, where it only played the Jerusalem Film Fest (and won the Best Screenplay award). This should not surprise, since the movie tackles some thorny Israeli problems that, I suspect, have only grown worse since then.

Mr. Lapid, shown at right, does a lot of things right in this, his second full-length film. He captures the unassuming prerogative of power shown by his band of young Israeli policemen, whether they are racing their motorcycles, shouting out their own names on a mountaintop, or mercilessly beating up a young man who has stolen a bouquet off a gravesite. These guys are the elite; they know it, and they want to make certain we know it, too. We only really get to know two of these policeman at all well: Yaron (played by Yiftach Klein), a fellow whose wife is pregnant, and Ariel (played by Gal Hoyberger), who has cancer and will probably be dead sometime soon.

Not surprisingly, our boys are being charged with heavy-duty misconduct (they're responsible for the death of Arab family members), and Yaron (shown above) is chosen as the guy who will ask Ariel (below, right) if he'll sign a confession that he did the deed (as Ariel is currently undergoing medical treatment, he cannot be brought up on charges).

We spend time with these guys at work and play, meet their women and listen to them chatting in their macho manner. Nothing particularly deep, mind you, but as about as deep as men of this occupation appear to get (in the movies, at least).

Cut to night, and a gang of teenagers who, for no particular reason we can ascertain, proceed to destroy a nearby car. The owner of the car, who is watching all this from a distance, seems surprisingly non-plussed at this. She is played by an attractive and rather wholesome looking actress named Yaara Pelzig (above), so when we learn that she is part of a group of young radicals planning some sort of terrorist attack (they go target practicing outside), we are surprised.

Now we spend time with this little radical group and get to know its leader (Michael Aloni, above, of Out in the Dark), and at least one of his followers (Michael Moshonov, below, of Lebanon) and even the follower's father (Menashe Noy of Big Bad Wolves), who was himself a revolutionary back in the day, but who, when he learns of his son's intentions, tries to dissuade the young man. There is also a fraught romance going on -- one of those A loves B who loves C  -- which further complicates matters.

The reason for this little group's foray into terrorism is the huge disparity between the rich and the poor in Israel -- which is being addressed in that country with just about the same "so what?" manner as it is in our own. Which, for some of us, will make the resorting to violence seem understandable, if not particularly productive.

Our two groups -- police and would-be warriors -- never connect. Not, at least, until the film's finale -- which takes place at a wedding of the very prosperous. Yet so strongly has the filmmaker brought many of his characters to life and his themes to fruition that we're with both groups, intellectually and emotionally, throughout. It will depend on your political bearings, of course, whether you side more with one or the other. Both are greatly flawed but one has the imprimatur of the mainstream culture.

There is growing tension and suspense here but more important believability throughout these goings-on. There is also plenty of ambivalence and mixed motives regarding who these characters are and what they want. (The scene, below, between our "hero" and an Arab waitress is a stunner.) This makes the movie richer and more provocative but less easy to pigeonhole. It is a rewarding mixture, and one that deserves to be seen and argued over. I am most grateful to Corinth Releasing for giving us the opportunity to do just that.

Policeman opens this Friday in New York City (at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center) and in Los Angeles (at the Arena Cinema in Hollywood). Further playdates around the country are expected to surface, once this initial week's run is successful. Which I very much hope it will be.

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