The Israeli movie director Nadav Lapid will be in the spotlight when the Toronto International Film Festival’s Cinematheque presents two of his feature films, Policeman and The Kindergarten Teacher, and a selection of his short films, on August 16, 17 and 18 respectively at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
I sampled his work by watching Policeman (2011). Tough and unaffected, it portrays contemporary Israel through the eyes of Israelis who accept and reject the political, economic and social status quo.
The Israelis who abide by the existing order are members of an anti-terrorist police squad led by Yaron (Yiftach Klein), a backslapping fellow in his mid-30s who values camaraderie. In the opening scene, Yaron and four of his fellow officers are seen cycling in the high desert. Stopping for a break, they survey a barren landscape of rolling hills, prompting one of the cops to exclaim, “This is the most beautiful country in the world.”
These guys are patriotic to the core and enjoy each other’s company. They meet at barbecues, their wives at their sides, and they unwind with cold drinks at a seaside cafe in Tel Aviv.
Beyond the hugs and the laughter, they are definitely self-serving. After a member of the team is diagnosed with a brain tumour, they persuade him to take responsibility for a mishap that occurred during a raid they conducted on an Arab village. Yaron convinces him he won’t be criminally charged due to his medical condition. This is mere conjecture, of course.
Midway through the movie, the camera pans on a group of Israelis taking turns shooting at a gnarled old tree. They’re Jewish revolutionaries planning to extract a ransom from two billionaires who are known to exploit their employees.
The shift from Yaron and company to the Jewish radicals is jarring and more than a little puzzling. But as the film unfolds, the new characters gradually blend into the surroundings.
The ringleader of this band of extremists, Nathanel (Michael Aloni), is a somewhat charismatic figure. One of his followers, Shira (Yaara Pelzig), calls her parents “pigs,” recites highflown revolutionary poetry and describes Israel as a cruel, ugly, racist state of masters and slaves with the highest poverty levels in the Western world.
Yaron and his men return to the screen as they clash with the revolutionaries in an inevitable showdown. The bloody encounter takes place in a dark hall in a hail of bullets.
It’s not an improbable scenario, but the notion of left-wing Jewish terrorists taking Jews hostage, an event that has yet to occur in Israel, seems implausible to this viewer.