On the last day of the 1967 Six Day War, an Israeli army officer named Menashe comes under fire from enemy positions and his comrade-in-arms is killed on the battlefield.
Six years later, Menashe is still struggling with its psychic fallout and is not the man he used to be. Having been traumatized by the death of his friend, he has retreated into himself at the expense of his family.
He suffers from shell shock, or post-traumatic stress. Menashe’s distressing condition is at the core of Beneath the Silence, a poignant Israeli feature film by Erez Mizrahi and Sahar Shavit now available on the ChaiFlicks streaming platform.
A resident of a small town and a truck driver for a soft drink company, Menashe (Amos Tamam) is a solitary figure who acts like a lost soul. Being monosyllabic, he barely speaks to his wife, Daphna (Adva Bolla), or his son Shlomi (Roy Fink). And being completely self-absorbed, he misses Shlomi’s tenth birthday party. By the looks of it, Menashe has become a virtually dysfunctional person.
Tamam and Bolla deliver fine performances, sinking into Menashe’s and Adva’s very pores. Fink is impressive as well.
As it must, this empathetic film focuses on Menashe, whose unconventional behavior has not gone unnoticed. He wakes up his neighbors in the middle of the night, his horn honking loudly after he slumps against the steering wheel of his truck. The men who have been roused from their sleep to attend to him are not angry with Menashe. They understand he’s a casualty of a war.
Shlomi, having been asked by his friend why his father is so quiet, is acutely aware that something is amiss with Menashe. At school, Shlomi is embarrassed when a cruel student passes around a note claiming that Menashe is “crazy.”
In desperation, Daphna appears before a military board to request a deferment for him from reserve duty. She explains he’s a pale imitation of his former strong and charismatic self. Daphna, in a subsequent scene, pours out her heart to a girlfriend, confessing her marriage is bereft of intimacy.
Unable to extricate himself from his misery, Menashe is suicidal and twice tries to kill himself.
Three-quarters of the way through the film, Menashe appears to be getting better. Lying in bed with Daphna, he assures her that she and Shlomi mean everything to him. As he and Shlomi wash his truck, Menashe playfully horses around with him, planting a kiss on his cheek.
Yet minutes later, the upbeat mood turns abruptly grim when Menashe finds a letter he is not supposed to read.
The film takes place in the weeks leading up to the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Moshe Dayan, the defence minister, delivers an optimistic appraisal on the current military situation, and a radio broadcast reports that 12 Syrian MIGs have been shot down in a dog fight by the Israeli Air Force.
News of the new war breaks out as Menashe leaves a synagogue. Once again, he is ready to serve his country, his medical condition notwithstanding. Daphna begs him to wait until he is officially called up for duty.
Although Beneath the Silence ends on an uncertain note, it underscores the point that some soldiers are deeply affected by their experiences in combat.