Policeman: Film Review

A political Israeli film with strong dramatic and topical value. 

The political drama, which centers on the leader of a squad of highly trained officers who deal with Arab terrorists, won awards at the Jerusalem and Locarno film festivals.

A boldly conceived and bracingly told political drama, Policeman (Hashoter) possesses a special contemporary pertinence in the wake of the recent massive protests relating to the vast class and economic disparities in Israel. This intensely physical first full-length feature from writer-director Nadav Lapid, whose 50-minute Emil's Girlfriend showed at Cannes in 2006, divides its attention between an elite anti-terrorist police unit and a small cell of young upper-class revolutionaries whose slogans sound oh-so 1968. The winner of three awards (best first or second work, screenplay and cinematography) at the Jerusalem Film Festival and recipient of a special jury prize at Locarno, the highly charged film should travel far on the festival circuit and attract distributor interest in numerous Western territories.

The first 43 minutes of Policeman focus mostly upon Yaron (Yiftach Klein), the hunky, ultra-macho nominal leader of a squad of highly trained officers who specialize in only the most difficult operations, normally against Arab terrorists. Seemingly everything Yaron does has a physical dimension: While talking with his vastly pregnant wife in their flat during a long early scene, he gives her an extensive massage; he's competitive on a bike outing and the greetings and horsing around with his mates at an afternoon party involve a conspicuously hearty physicality.

This opening stretch involves little overt drama per se; there is scattered talk of an arrangement under which one member of the team, who has an apparent brain tumor, will accept responsibility for what happened on an operation where some innocents were killed, as his medical condition prevents him from being tried, and the men attend the funeral of another from their unit. More than anything, this first interlude embodies and expresses the camaraderie and the intoxication of being part of the elite, the physically empowered, the exceptionals. Some may detect the trace of a gay subtext, but all the male touching and feeling seems more of a specifically cultural thing than anything sexual.

A seemingly arbitrary attack on a parked car by some young punks signals the abrupt change of focus to a quartet of spoiled rich kids intent on igniting trouble. Like the youthful radicals in Godard's La Chinoise, these idealists have tipped over into nihilism, not caring how much harm they do so long as their revolutionary aims are met. “It's time for the poor to get rich and the rich to start dying,” intones Shira (Yaara Pelzig), a provocatively inexpressive blonde, more than once, as she and the charismatic (and also blond) ringleader Natanel (Michael Aloni) plot to stage a big operation.

Although the plot is almost blown when the father of one of the conspirators gets wind of it, he winds up joining the gang on a mission targeting some Israeli billionaires. Suspense and bloodshed ensue in the intense climax which, inevitably, requires the elite squad to intervene in a stand-off uncommonly perpetrated by fellow Israelis.

Writer-director Lapid has not structured this in the usual manner of commercial cinema, having decided to section the separate story components off in blocks rather than to intercut in the interest of a good guys-bad guys dynamic. Fairly long scenes with minimal narrative thrust predominate, but tension builds all the same, as two opposing forces -- the well-trained police and the wayward youngsters -- become poised for an inevitable collision.

Even if the buff, self-assured commandos come off as far more appealing as people than the bratty, conscienceless anarchists, there's more at stake here than the fates of individuals, which makes for a disturbing aftermath as far as the nature of the Israeli state is concerned.

The main performances are powerful, the visuals are bold and vivid, the final effect one of the gut having been punched and the mind stirred.

Venue: Locarno Film Festival
Production: Laila Films
Cast: Yiftach Klein, Yaara Pelzig, Michael Mushonov, Menashe Noi, Michael Aloni, Gal Hoyberger, Meital Berdah, Shaul Mizrahi, Rona-Lee Shimon, Ben Adam
Director-screenwriter: Nadav Lapid
Producer: Itai Tamir
Director of photography: Shai Goldman
Editor: Era Lapid
Sales: Wide Management, Paris
Running time: 108 minutes