The Farewell Party
The Farewell Party, comedy/drama, not rated, in Hebrew with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
Co-writers and directors Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon’s clever, moving tale of euthanasia at a Jerusalem retirement community is a film about tough choices. The residents suffer from terminal cancer, dementia, and other illnesses. But a dose of low-key humor helps The Farewell Party to steer clear of heavy-handedness, even as it grapples with some serious issues such as the ethical and moral ramifications of assisted suicide.
Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach) is an amateur inventor with an irascible nature. He plays pranks on his neighbors such as calling up his eternally suffering friend Zelda (Ruth Geller), whose medical conditions have overwhelmed her, and, manipulating his voice through a device, he pretends to be God, convincing her to hang on a little longer. When Yehezkel is approached by his neighbor Yana (Aliza Rosen) with an unusual request — to invent a machine that will euthanize her dying husband Max (Shmuel Wolf) — he’s reticent to accept the proposal. But he warms to the idea and begins to research the work of American pathologist Jack Kevorkian, a proponent of physician-assisted suicide.
Soon, Yehezkel has invented a machine that injects chemicals into an IV, leading to a peaceful death. Yehezkel’s graceful wife Levana (Levana Finkelstein) is morally opposed to her husband’s new venture, and their disagreement causes them to become estranged. When word gets around about the amazing new machine, requests for its use start pouring in, and a simple act of mercy for a friend turns out to have unintended consequences.
The comedy in The Farewell Party is situational. Yehezkel and his friends have to consider legal and medical issues surrounding euthanasia and solicit the medical advice of a veterinarian (the only doctor they can find), and the legal advice of a retired cop. Once the terminally ill patients have made recorded statements that it is their wish to end their life, the machine takes care of the rest. The story takes a poignant turn when the health of Levana, who suffers from dementia, grows worse (one day, she shows up nude at the cafeteria). She tells Yehezkel that she’s disappearing, and the pleading, lost look in her eyes is heartbreaking. As her mind deteriorates, she is increasingly dependent on Yehezkel’s care. Yehezkel finds himself in a quandary when faced with losing his wife and his newfound ability to end her suffering. Levana, too, in the awareness of her own circumstances, must contend with the presence of the euthanasia machine.
The Farewell Party is respectful of its characters, never making light of their predicaments or the pains they suffer. Its heart is in the right place. The rightness or wrongness of assisted suicide aside, it is likely that nothing brings greater comfort than arriving at death’s door surrounded by friends. — Michael Abatemarco
Calling Dr. Kevorkian: Ze’ev Revach and Levana Finkelstein