Thursday, June 7, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Azimuth

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Directed by Mike Burstyn
Screening June 7th at 6pm

Throughout history, there are a number of examples of battles fought after the official end of the war. Their significance is often minimal because treaties have been signed and there is nothing left to be negotiated, but blood is still shed and lives may be lost. Technological and communication enhancements mean that such instances in modern times are reduced, but diplomatically resolving a conflict doesn’t mean that the sentiments involved are negated, and those left on an abandoned battlefield are likely to harbor just as much emotion whether or not a war is actively happening.

At the end of the Six-Day War in 1967, Egyptian soldier Rashid (Sammy Sheik) awakens underneath a deceased fellow soldier, finding little around him alive and wandering the desert in search of a way out, unaware that the war is over. Israeli sergeant Moti (Yiftach Klein) leaves two of his men to try to drive away for help, stopping when his vehicle starts smoking. Rashid and Moti encounter each other and, driven equally by a distrust of the other and by a desire to live, bide their time as they determine how much they hate their enemy and whether they may only be able to survive if they work together.

The Sinai desert serves as a more than adequate setting for a film that features just two characters for most of its runtime. There is not much need for decoration since close-ups of these two and their efforts to best the other are most prominently feature, and visual effects serve to assist the gunfire and other weaponry used to try to gain the upper hand. This is a story about two men with historical and cultural differences who aren’t actually all that different, as explored by flashbacks to their surprisingly similar paths to serving in the war.

Egyptian actor Sheik and Israeli actor Klein are depended upon heavily for their reactions to the harsh environmental conditions surrounding them, and they perform dependably. This story isn’t specific to this conflict, and a version of it has been told generally in more involving ways in films such as “Tangerines” and “Game of Aces.” There’s some merit to the underscoring of shared cultures and sentimentality that may actually united people more than divide them, but this particular portrait doesn’t achieve anything more than its expected trajectory. It’s a decent film, but far from a memorable or unique one.


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