The man who was there
'Lapid's handling of the subject of Israeli masculinity provides the scaffolding on which the film ascends throughout.'
Symbols and allegories, static situations and situations in perpetual motion, passive responses and active moves - all these communicate and clash in "Policeman," Nadav Lapid's first full-length feature, one of the most challenging and interesting films produced here recently.
I thought to write that it centers around the character of Yaron, a policeman in the counter-terrorism unit, but Lapid's film - like the reality in which it takes place - has a few centers, and the relationship among them is constantly changing. That is one of the reasons for the tension one feels while watching it: Viewers are required constantly to change their attitude toward it, emotionally and ideologically. This need for change combines with the general themes of the film.
A main element in one of the centers of the film is the character of Yaron, whose wife is in her ninth month of pregnancy. (In addition, one of his colleagues has a terminal illness; the presentation of a thing and its opposite is an essential trick used to develop the film so that it becomes a work whose main objective is to create a broad dialectical foundation for itself. )
Yaron, a symbol of total masculine physical awareness, pampers his wife with a type of good-hearted condescension that seems to convey to her and to the viewers a feeling along the lines of: "Look how beautiful I am, a man who is about to become a father, taking care of my wife who is about to give birth for me." In one of the best scenes he "practices" with the baby of friends, to determine whether a baby pressed to his bare chest suits him. Yes, it suits him, as indicated by the slight smile of Yiftach Klein, who plays Yaron and does precise and excellent work.
As a rule, the scenes that portray the relationships between Yaron and his friends - all of whom seem to be cut from the same masculine Israeli cloth (only the sick one looks different because he is so thin ) - are very funny, especially when it comes to their body language: the inevitable embraces and the essential slaps on the butt. Friendship, brotherhood, partnership and loyalty also create the basis for a solution in one of the secondary plots in the film, which relates to a messy affair in which the policemen in the unit become involved. The same solution diverts the friendship and brotherhood and partnership and loyalty to the brink of corruption and atrophy, without which the masculine ethos would not survive.
Lapid's handling of the subject of Israeli masculinity provides the scaffolding on which the film ascends throughout, while at its feet another long, flat structure is constructed, which serves as a foundation. "Policeman" follows two parallel story lines, but does not present them as is customary nowadays in films with a multiplicity of narratives. Lapid wants to shake up the viewers and to open the huge vacuum into which the many sources of irony that fuel the film can flow.
The second story line concerns a group of bourgeois young people who plan to commit a violent act as part of their struggle for social justice.
When I first saw the film at the Jerusalem Film Festival, this theme seemed like a fantasy of Lapid's. But things happened; he was seen as a prophet, and his film as being before its time. We don't have to be overly accepting of either of these poles. Lapid does not give the young rebels in his movie an idealistic or romantic dimension, and instead makes them part of the ironic halo that hovers over the entire film. He does not intend to present the revolution-in-the making, rather the overall bankruptcy of the age group and social class that is calling for the advent of this revolution - as well as of the entire society that reacts to this revolution, whose motto is that the time has come for the poor to get rich and the rich to die. That is social justice in the opinion of the rebels in the film.
"Policeman" is the story of two groups. The concept of a "group" or "the guys" is so significant in the Israeli ethos that both of these are based on a romantic foundation - which Lapid treats with irony. One group in the film is composed of men only, the other of young people who are joined by the father of one of them: a former revolutionary (Menashe Noy ) who is concerned about the fate of his son (Michael Moshonov ).
The story of the two groups - which Lapid at first tries to keep apart, before being compelled to connect them - brings the subject of masculinity to the fore here (in the group of young people, there is a kind of fierce competition between its two leaders, Netanel and Shira, a man and woman, played impressively by Michael Aloni and Yaara Pelzig , pictured left), and through it the issues of fatherhood and of parent-child relationships in general; these are reflected in varied ways in the different layers of the plot.
This is a cold, distant and alienated portrait, but not condescending or lacking in empathy, of the historical moment in which we now find ourselves. A portrait that is created cleverly, with talent and insight.
As compared to several other Israeli films produced recently, which seemed to me outdated and divorced from their times, in "Policeman" I felt the beat of the present historical moment - in the irony, in the alienation mixed with the longing for warmth and emotion that can be strongly felt in it, mainly toward the end, and in the cinematic work here, which is up-to-date and modern, not heavy or covered with dust.
There are excellent moments and outstanding dialogues in the film. For example, when Shira tries to include a reference to the Palestinians in the revolutionaries' poster, but Netanel says they aren't "in fashion." Also noteworthy is the moment when the policemen review the list of the young revolutionaries, and discover that one of them participated in the past in demonstrations against the separation barrier and in favor of the organization Let the Animals Live - and stop seeing him as a dangerous element.
Also contributing to the success of the film is the pure and clear cinematography of Shai Goldman, who is turning out to be one of the most important figures in that profession in Israel. (At the Haifa International Film Festival, I saw another interesting Israeli film, "The Exchange" by Eran Kolirin, which he filmed, and in which he also did excellent work. )
Furthermore, the ending of the film is especially good, revealing the severity that makes it a work of scope - and, particularly, one with validity. That ending is summed up in a glance between two of the main characters, one that is open to many interpretations, as is the entire film. And it is a look that first and foremost demands that viewers respond to it with their own gaze. "Policeman" deserves it.