Ag­ing and eu­thana­sia

Is­raeli film­mak­ers mine laughs on taboo sub­ject

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Su­san King su­san.king@la­times.com

Is­raeli film­mak­ers treat topic sen­si­tively but also lightly.

Is­raeli film­maker Sharon May­mon was present when his ex-boyfriend’s grand­mother Helga died in her home af­ter suf­fer­ing from cancer for five years.

“We saw how the death re­leased her from pain and suf­fer­ing,” he noted. “Then the paramedics came into the home, and for half an hour they tried to re­sus­ci­tate her in front of our eyes.”

May­mon still can’t shake off the hor­rific im­age of their fu­tile at­tempts to bring her back to life. “It was so sur­real,” he said.

Helga’s death was the in­spi­ra­tion for the award-win­ning Is­raeli com­edy “The Farewell Party,” which opens Fri­day in Los An­ge­les.

Writ­ten and di­rected by May­mon and fel­low Is­raeli film­maker Tal Granit, “Farewell Party” re­volves around a group of friends at a Jerusalem re­tire­ment home who de­cide to play Dr. Kevorkian by build­ing a self-eu­thana­sia ma­chine in or­der to help a friend of theirs who is dy­ing a slow, ag­o­niz­ing death.

Though the friends vow to keep the ex­is­tence of their ma­chine a se­cret, word be­gins to spread, and the group finds it­self in­un­dated with re­quests.

The prob­lems of the el­derly and their care­givers, said Granit, are rarely de­picted in Is­raeli films. “It was very im­por­tant to raise [the is­sue]. A lot of peo­ple came to us af­ter the movie and told us it was very dif­fi­cult to take care of their par­ents. But see­ing it in a movie was good for them.”

“These days we are pro­long­ing life be­cause of medicine and are dy­ing at a very old age, 90 and even older,” added May­mon. “The body is healthy, but the mind — there is a prob­lem. We have to live with this sit­u­a­tion.”

The duo vis­ited many re­tire­ment homes while writ­ing the script. “We talked to a lot of old peo­ple,” said Granit. “A lot of them said if there was a ma­chine like where they would die when they are ready, they would love to have it. They want to live as long as there is qual­ity of liv­ing. A lot of peo­ple ex­pressed con­cerns — ‘When my health won’t be good, we ought to be able to say good­bye.’ ”

Granit, a grad­u­ate of Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Tele­vi­sion School, and May­mon, who re­ceived his de­gree from the Cam­era Ob­scura film school in Tel Aviv, have been a film­mak­ing team for a dozen years.

It seemed nat­u­ral to them to look at this of­ten tragic sub­ject through the lens of com­edy.

“In all of our films, we are deal­ing with a so­cial is­sue in a comic way,” said May­mon. “In the writ­ing stage, when we have a heavy mo­ment, we know where to break it with a joke or hu­mor. It’s eas­ier to get to more peo­ple with this sub­ject by hu­mor.”

May­mon and Granit also cast ac­tors known for their comedic skills such as vet­eran Ze’ev Re­vach, who they had worked with be­fore in a short film, and Le­vana Finkel­stein. In the film, Re­vach’s char­ac­ter is a cre­ator of the death ma­chine, and Finkel­stein plays his de­men­tia-af­flicted wife.

Not your stan­dard source of laugh­ter — but the film­mak­ers didn’t see it that way.

“I must tell you when we were writ­ing the script, we didn’t see the film as a heavy film,” said Granit. “To us, it’s all about life and the choices you make in life. I think these old peo­ple are very alive. For me, it is an op­ti­mistic film.”

Max Hochstein Sa­muel Goldwyn Films

“THE FAREWELL PARTY” stars vet­eran comic ac­tors Ze’ev Re­vach as Ye­hezkel, the in­ven­tor of the film’s sud­denly pop­u­lar self-eu­thana­sia de­vice, with Le­vana Finkel­stein as his wife, Le­vana.

Sa­muel Goldwyn Films

WRITER-DI­REC­TORS Tal Granit, be­low, and Sharon May­mon on the set of the film, an award-win­ner in Is­rael now open­ing in L.A.

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