‘The Farewell Party’

The win­ning Is­raeli film strikes a del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween the comic and pro­found.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - KEN­NETH TU­RAN FILM CRITIC ken­neth.tu­ran@la­times.com

The wildly suc­cess­ful Is­raeli im­port man­ages to make a story about a se­nior cen­ter’s as­sisted sui­cide con­trap­tion into a thought­ful and af­fect­ing com­edy.

“The Farewell Party” not only thinks the un­think­able, it laughs at the un­laugh­able.

Nom­i­nated for 14 Ophirs (the Is­raeli Academy Awards), this is a gen­tle but pointed work that walks a par­tic­u­lar line to cre­ate a spe­cific tone, a con­sis­tently warm and comic film about an un­mis­tak­ably se­ri­ous sub­ject.

As the lit­eral trans­la­tion of the film’s He­brew ti­tle (“A Good Death”) in­di­cates, this is a mov­ing yet al­ways amus­ing piece about the end of life. More specif­i­cally, it’s about a group of se­nior cit­i­zens who de­cide to make that end come just a lit­tle bit faster for some of their friends only to have the en­tire en­ter­prise quickly spi­ral out of con­trol.

Writ­ten and di­rected by Sharon May­mon and Tal Granit and char­ac­ter­ized by the un­mis­tak­ably mor­dant Is­raeli sense of hu­mor, “The Farewell Party” suc­ceeds as well as it does be­cause the core dilemma al­ways feels real and the film­mak­ers take great care to see that the in­evitable emo­tions put into play are never over­done.

In this they are helped by an ex­cep­tional cast of vet­eran Is­raeli comic ac­tors, here ven­tur­ing into some­what more se­ri­ous ter­ri­tory. At the top of the list is Ze’ev Re­vach, who won Is­rael’s ac­tor award play­ing Ye­hezkel, the ring­leader of a geri­atric death squad that turns into the gang that couldn’t kill straight.

Ye­hezkel, along with his wife, Le­vana (Le­vana Finkelshtein), are res­i­dents of a very com­fort­able re­tire­ment home in Jerusalem. When we first meet him, the most se­ri­ous thing he’s do­ing is pre­tend­ing to be the Almighty in a phone call to a fel­low res­i­dent, telling her that, re­gret­tably, at the present mo­ment “there are no va­can­cies at all” in the next life.

Things be­come more se­ri­ous when we meet Yana (Al­iza Rozen, who was a mem­o­rable wife in Joseph Cedar’s “Foot­note”). Her hus­band, Max (Sh­muel Wolf ), is dy­ing of an ir­re­versible ill­ness and is in ter­ri­ble, ever-present pain. He asks his good friend Ye­hezkel to “help me to get it over with,” and Ye­hezkel goes about com­ply­ing even though his wife, Le­vana, is morally op­posed to the idea.

A life­long tin­kerer and in­ven­tor, Ye­hezkel comes up with a Rube Goldberg-type con­trap­tion, con­nected to one of the elec­tri­cal timers that ob­ser­vant Jews use to turn off ap­pli­ances on the Sab­bath, that will al­low Max to give him­self a fa­tal dose of tran­quil­iz­ers.

Ye­hezkel also goes about re­cruit­ing mem­bers from fel­low re­tire­ment home res­i­dents for a kind of as­sisted sui­cide club, a group to help him do the deed and cover his tracks. He would have liked the help of a doc­tor, but the best he can do is a for­mer vet­eri­nar­ian (Ilan Dar) and a re­tired po­lice de­tec­tive (Rafael Ta­bor.)

Given what a small world the re­tire­ment home is, it’s in­evitable that other res­i­dents hear what Ye­hezkel is up to and start to com­i­cally im­por­tune him about get­ting in on the ac­tion.

At the same time, and much more bleakly, Ye­hezel’s wife, Le­vana, de­vel­ops in­creas­ingly se­ri­ous symptoms of de­men­tia (por­trayed un­blink­ingly and with­out sen­ti­ment), and de­ci­sions about what to do about her fu­ture be­come more press­ing.

Though its pace is the op­po­site of the fre­netic tone adapted by most Amer­i­can come­dies, “The Farewell Party” never loses track of its sense of the ab­surd and in­cludes slap­stick mo­ments as well as a run­ning gag about be­ing stopped for a traf­fic ticket.

On pa­per, the del­i­cate bal­ance “The Farewell Party” achieves sounds un­doable, but on the screen, the only place that mat­ters, this im­pos­si­ble mission is a suc­cess.

Max Hochstein Sa­muel Gold­wyn Films

VET­ERAN IS­RAELI comic ac­tors make up the ex­cep­tional cast in “The Farewell Party,” about a group of se­nior cit­i­zens who take death into their own hands.

Max Hochstein Sa­muel Gold­wyn Films

ZE’EV RE­VACH por­trays re­tire­ment home ring­leader Ye­hezkel, with Le­vana Finkelshtein as his wife.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.