POLICEMAN – Theatrical Review

The Wisconsin Film Festival features a wide variety of feature-length films from different countries, allowing moviegoers to sample films from many genres. This year was no different than previous years, with more than a hundred and forty films playing over a five-day period from April 18-22, 2012. After having lived in Madison for twelve years, this year was the first time I have seen films at the festival. On Sunday, April 22, I watched two of them, “Policeman “and “Mourning.”  Let me tell you about the first one.

“Policeman” (2011) is an Israeli political drama, thoughtfully and poignantly directed by first-time director Nadav Lapid. Set in the ‘60s and ‘70s, “Policeman” offers a provocative commentary on the social structure that exists in Israel, where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The film’s class-divide portrayal bears similarity to the current social unease in the U.S. and elsewhere that has rapidly transformed into a rancorous debate, calling politicians to think fairly for the middle and lower classes.  But, “Policeman” is by no means an elaborate case study on Israel’s current problems, nor does it present any solutions for tackling the social crisis.

The film opens up with a group of bikers ascending a steep terrain in the countryside, and there we meet the film’s primary character, Yaron (Yiftach Klein).  Yoran is a perfectly likeable character, who likes to deliver his best in whatever he undertakes. We also learn that he works for a special security task force unit, whose main operation is to hunt down Arab terrorists. The film’s first half focusses on Yoran and his pregnant wife, and we witness some tender moments between the two, especially when Yoran gives his wife a massage. At this point, we assume there is no tension in their marriage, as both eagerly await the birth of their child.  On the job front, Yoran bonds well with his coworkers, and, in fact, Yoran and his coworkers are like an extended family. They hang out together; their group feels like a big boys club; and their families party together. When it comes to deciding the best course of action in a legal case for a mission in the past, they act united, even when they might have differences.

The first half of the film ends abruptly, and suddenly we are introduced to a group of four young Israelis who call themselves “social” revolutionaries, fighting for common people’s causes. The two remarkable characters in this half are Shira (Yaara Pelzig) and Natanel (Michael Aloni). As a leader of the group, Natanel is the main thinker for the group, who often comes up with a plan after collaborating with other team members. He is always preoccupied with the thoughts of making their group’s revolution more widespread and noticeable to politicians. He doesn’t talk much, but the intensity in his eyes conveys his true intent. At times, he comes across as unpredictable, always willing to embrace violence, even if it means the deaths of innocent people. Shira, on the other hand, is also quiet but tightly focused on their group’s mission of conveying their message. Even though the message, as we hear it from Shira, doesn’t propose any new solutions, it manages to capture the youthful angst, alienation, and frustration of a younger generation.

The film’s last ten minutes are packed with tension, as rebels take hostage big businessmen in Israel. The law enforcement agency views these rebels as terrorists. Yoran’s team is tasked to neutralize the terrorists with minimal damage. The final shots are rapid, leading to a satisfying ending that also presents a metaphor on the power play normally seen in any uprising. Indeed, the manner in which the terrorists are flattened demonstrates how government forces can easily squash a radical idea, even when the rebellious ideology has the capability to influence others for the good and makes sense. Certainly, it boils down to how the idea is broadcast, whether it is through violence or peaceful ways, and the final outcome will be dictated by whatever option is chosen.

Yoran, when he sees Shira in a pool of blood, is slightly shocked and for a few seconds tries to makes sense of what happened; we feel Shira is a Yoran’s old acquaintance. As it turns out, the whole shoot-em-up sequence has transformed Yoran, his eyes are soaked in pain and his face speechless, and for that riveting moment, it appears as if the rebels’ ideas have percolated into his soul. All the time in his career, Yoran kept thinking only that Arabs were terrorists, but when he comes face-to-face with his own people who are now terrorists, he realizes, after all, there might be something wrong in today’s society; the brutality of the outcome stuns him emotionally.

Beautifully shot, “Policeman” is a nonmainstream action film that is more of a character study, presenting us the “protectors” of the society and the “rebels” for social reforms. It’s a tense, topical drama that is true in representing a rebel movement against class inequality and social repression seen in Israel during this time period. Indeed, director-writer Nadav Lapid’s debut effort is truly memorable and comes highly recommended if it is playing at a local film festival near you.