Friday, April 24, 2009

[SIFF09] Amos Gitai Retrospect: Kippur (Asian Premiere)

Rag-Tag Team

While it's easy to set expectations and think that this could be a Saving Private Ryan / Black Hawk Down type of film (since the synopsis does reveal a chopper going down), this is after all an Amos Gitai film, and I feel this is more Apocalypse Now with The Thin Red Line sensibilities, though with none of Terrence Malick's visual poetry.

Based on Gitai's own experience of joining a helicopter rescue crew during the war of Kippur in 1967, he creates the character of Sergeant Weinraub (Liron Levo, also seen in Amos Gitai's Disengagement) and it's through his eyes that the story unfolds. The film is curiously bookend by some graphic, artistic (literally, since it involves an incredibly huge canvas and lots of paint) sex, where Weinraub pounds his girlfriend in an extended scene in the beginning, before the outbreak of war with the attack by Egypt and Syria interrupting his moment of passion, and he picks up friend and officer Lt Ruso (Tomer Russo) as they drive back to camp to join their unit.

Along the way they meet a number of characters who flit into and out of the story, and soon find themselves in a camp that they could get to, and volunteering to join a makeshift, hastily assembled helicopter unit to fly to the warzone in order to pick up wounded survivors, kind of like a flying ambulance tasked for rescue missions. We learn a thing or two about emergency evacuations, as well as the policy of not transporting the dead in time-critical missions as these, taking only survivors and sticking to their mission objectives.

If one does not know that Gitai is at the helm of the film, one could expect an out-and-out war movie, since the scenario painted provides plenty of avenue for such. There are flights into the frontline, and in carrying out their mission, Getai litters the screen with plenty of dismembered bodies up close enough to churn your stomach. There are moments where some action is called for, but these are few and far between since our soldiers are unarmed. For those with Gitai sensibilities, then you'll probably note his preference for long takes, and there was one incredibly long sequence involving a traffic jam and narrow roads, when Weinraub and Ruso are rushing back en route to their camp. Otherwise, most of the shots during war involve tight helicopter interiors, or helicopter overhead views, but through narrow windows, capturing scores of tanks in vast, muddy landscapes ravaged by tracks that had gone past, that you can imagine the scale of the invasion with.

Unlike other war films that preach the negative aspects of war, this felt more of a documentary of sorts, since after all it's based upon the director's own experience. Scenes are delivered as a matter-of-fact, sometimes devoid of emotion too as the soldiers go about doing the business, and the plenty of landscape shots are just that and could easily have been representative of news reels back then. Not your conventional war movie, and definitely worthwhile only when the troops hit the ground, and not flying high and far away from the action.

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