Sunday, November 16, 2014

CRACKER? Kippur (2000)


                “Kippur” is an Israeli war movie set in the Yom Kippur War.  It is autobiographical as director Amos Gitai co-wrote the screenplay based on his experiences in a helicopter rescue unit.  The movie was assisted by the Israeli Defense Forces.  It was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, but had very limited release in the U.S.
                The film opens at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.  The movie assumes its audience is familiar with the circumstances behind the war.  In October, 1973 an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack during the Yom Kippur holiday.  The Egyptians attacked the Sinai Peninsula and the Syrians assaulted the Golan Heights.  The movie is set on the Golan Heights where the Syrians had initial success in pushing the Israelis back.  Gitai realistically conveys the confusion and fog of war that were common in the early days of the conflict.
                The movie opens with Weintraub (Liron Leub) making love not war in a bohemian environment using paint with his girlfriend to make a work of art.  He believes in multi-tasking.  Sirens alert him and the country that love-making time is over.  Weintraub joins his buddy Ruso (Liron Levo) is a fruitless attempt to reach their reserve unit.  Weintraub is the intellectual and Ruso is the gung-ho, it’s finally our time to fight type.  They literally drive a car to the front where they get caught up in a retreat.  This sequence is lensed from the back seat of the car.  They end up sleeping on the side of the road.  There they meet a doctor and decide to join his unit.
                The rest of the film is the duo going on various rescue missions for hospitals.  It’s like MASH, but concentrating on the helicopter deliveries, not the hospital activities.  They do a lot of stretcher bearing.  One scene is an exhausting (and exhausting to watch) trek through a muddy field with a wounded soldier.  The guy dies anyway and then it starts raining!  Did I mention the movie is anti-war?  The most autobiographical moment is a mission where their helicopter gets hit by a missile and goes down in chaos.  The action is filmed from inside the chopper to intense effect.
There's a stretcher in there somewhere
               This is a strange movie.  That is apparent from the onset with Weintraub walking down a street toward a stationary camera and then away from it.  Art!  This is the first in a grab bag of cinematography.  The sex painting is done from above.  Hand-held follows them through a trench system.  Shots from the backs of cars and helicopters.  Overhead shots of tanks maneuvering through muddy fields.  The camera is either intimate or detached.

               The movie is low budget, but Gitai uses the no-frills to his advantage.  Most scenes have no music.  On the other hand, the sound stands out.  The droning of the helicopter blades permeate the film to realistic effect.  The sets are realistic although because of the low budget the fields with the tanks look like someone’s churned up back field.  The hospitals are realistically chaotic.  The insides of the helicopters appear to be the real deal.  They even have a helicopter with racks for the wounded.  I had never seen that before.

                The movie is variable on dialogue.  There are long stretches where it is sparse.  There is more droning than droning on the missions.  Strangely, there are three straight talkie scenes in the hospital that provide some exposition, but slow the movie down.  The acting is average with the cast never achieving ensemble status.  The bells and whistles of the cinematography tend to overshadow the actors.  There is little character development.
War can be stressful

                “Kippur” is a worthy effort.  It is different in a positive way.  It deals with war on the micro level, but you still get a clear impression of the chaos and confusion at the beginning of the war.  Weintraub and Ruso represent the multitude of reservists who were yanked out of their civilian lives and shoved into the war feet first.  The fact that they were able to function after the initial sensory overload is a testament to the training they went through.  For instance, Weintraub and Ruso were not assigned to a medical unit but they were able to join one because they had some rudimentary training in that field.  By the end of the film the audience feels like it could perform similar tasks as the movie does a good tutorial on the workings of medical care in the Israeli army.
                The film is refreshingly devoid of clichés.  It even resists the old trope of inserting an omenous dream and then fulfilling it.  (Weintraub tells Ruso of a dream of burning to death in a tank.)  There is no hero to worship, but noone is a villain either.  There is no clash with authority and none of the doctors are doctrinaire buffoons.
                Does it crack the 100 Best list?  No.  Although it is a good movie and looks at war in a different way, it is too repetitive.  This film must have set the record for carrying bodies on stretchers.  Another problem is the weak ending.  By attempting to bring the film back full circle, Gitai ends up being trite.  The point is clear – these are civilian soldiers ripped from their cocoons and then restored (if they survived) – but it is heavy-handed.  It is still a worthy addition to the Israeli war film genre, but not as good as “Beaufort” or “Lebanon”.

grade =  B-


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