In recent years, two anti-war films, Beaufort and Waltz with Bashir, have been big award-winners in Israel. Both were short-listed for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and both have been written about on this blog.
During my recent speaking tour to the USA, I was asked in one college classroom to speak about Amos Gitai's Kippur, also a major anti-war film. Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to share some of my thoughts and the students' thoughts about the film.
Kippur (2000), produced just as Israel was pulling out of the "mud" of Lebanon, where we had been stuck since 1982, is set during the opening days of the Yom Kippur War of October, 1973. But the film does not provide any historical context about that war and does not explain how it began, so perhaps it should be seen as a film about war in general.
Clearly an anti-war statement – there is no heroism or triumph in this film -- the film is a hard-hitting portrayal of the horrors and unrelenting nature of war, and provides the viewer with a visceral experience. It is based on the director’s wartime experiences as a medic in the reserves on the Golan Heights, as the Syrians pushed forward and used the advantage won by the surprise attack against Israel. The film combines documentary reconstruction with fictional elements to portray the story. The characters’ names are taken from the names of the actors portraying them – adding to the authenticity of the film. Klausner plays Klausner and Russo plays Russo. Weinraub, the alter ego of the director, gets his name from Gitai's family name before it was Hebraized. But the realism needs no supporting elements – the battle scenes, shot in real time, are devastating, traumatic, gritty and grimly realistic.
The narrative of the film opens and closes with an erotic love scene in which the main character, Weinraub, is indulging in art-sex with his girlfriend. They use artist’s colors that blend together to cover each other’s bodies. Here, the filmmaker is framing or book-ending the war sequences with performance art, thereby comparing the two and making a comment about how both are frantic, arbitrary and surrealistic. When the siren sounds, Weinraub departs, driving through the eerie streets of Tel Aviv (the streets are empty on Yom Kippur) in his old fiat. He collects his buddy, Russo, and they drive to the Golan Heights to search for their unit. In the chaos of war, they become disoriented.
Along the way, they stop to help Klausner, a doctor whose car has broken down. He asks them to help him get to his airborne rescue unit. Thus, commandeered to work in a rescue unit for the duration of the war, Weinraub and Russo are given the dangerous mission of entering by helicopter into areas under Syrian gunfire to evacuate the wounded and bring them to Israeli field hospitals. They become involved in very difficult and bloody missions, trudging through the mud, pushed to the very limits of their emotional and physical capabilities.
The scenes are shot in real time and the camerawork often reflects the chaos and the perspective of the viewer – as we frantically run to the helicopter or as we view the battlefield from above. Gitai questions the notion of documentary versus fiction when his camera moves from a long shot to an up-close and personal view of the terrible reality in the trenches. There is no discussion of the politics or context of this war. The enemy is invisible and there are few moments of a human story. Basically, this is an everyman's tale and the viewer is led to realize an objective truth about the unrelenting and traumatic nature of war.
No longer the same person, Weinraub eventually returns to his waiting girlfriend. They make love, again in the wash of colors -- a violence of colors that blend together to become the brown of mud -- the mud that the viewer recognizes as part and parcel of the carnage of war.
Gitai's films deal with themes of exile, emigration and political issues relevant to the current reality. In addition, his films experiment with the traditional definitions of narrative and explore the boundaries of a critical view from within. His film Berlin-Jerusalem is a shattering view of the Zionist dream and his trilogy, Devarim, Day after Day and Kadosh takes place in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and explores, with a critical eye, societal issues in each of those cities. A prolific and controversial filmmaker, Gitai is one of the Israeli directors who has received much recognition worldwide.
Watch a clip from Kippur on youtube