Saturday, May 07, 2011

IFF ’11: Infiltration

The platoon of rejects undergoing bootcamp at IDF Training Base 4 cannot be called a Dirty Dozen. Frankly, they are not even dirty. Each should have been disqualified on the basis of physical or mental grounds. Instead, they are botching basic training together as a misfit unit in Dover Kosashvili’s Infiltration (trailer here), which screens during the 2011 Israel Film Festival in New York.

Miller is an epileptic. Peretz has anger management issues. Poor Rachamim Ben Hamo is a wreck, both physically and mentally. It is not exactly clear why self-styled ladies’ man Gabay is there, but it is quickly obvious he is the sort of person who makes every situation more difficult than necessary. Nearly everyone in the platoon expects a menial assignment when their course is completed, except Alon Harel. As a strapping young kibbutznik, he refuses to consider anything less than the paratroopers, not that he has any say in the matter. Unfortunately, his resentment will not dissipate, despite the (mostly) helpful suggestions of Commander Benny, their NCO drill instructor.

Based the 1986 novel by Yehoshua Kenaz, Infiltration (so titled for a war game exercise) obviously inspires comparisons to Full Metal Jacket. However, Commander Benny is no R. Lee Ermey. Granted, he can be cruel, but it is rather hard to blame him. After five minutes, you will want to haze the holy terror out of his recruits too.

On one level, Infiltration is the sort of film one wishes the Israeli film industry did not produce so frequently. After all, the America media is prolific enough producing negative portrayals of the IDF. There is no need for them to pile on. However, unlike more self-defeating Israeli imports, Infiltration is a rather nuanced and compelling film. In truth, drill instructors break down any sense of uniqueness and entitlement. It is what they do. If that requires crushing Harel’s heroic romanticism (as well as his self-esteem), then so be it.

Indeed, Michael Aloni is the real lynchpin of the film. He brings out balanced human dimensions to Benny, rather than simply playing him as the heavy. Likewise, Oz Zehavi elicits great sympathy as Harel, but there is always something slightly off about him. Indeed, he is not with this platoon by accident.

In dramatic contrast to the artful elegance of Georgian-Israeli Kosashvili’s previous film, Anton Chekhov’s The Duel, Avi Fahima’s design team give Infiltration a convincingly grubby sense of 1950’s barracks life in Israel. Yet, despite the lousiness of it all, there are those in the platoon like immigrant recruit “Zero Zero” who still consider it a veritable Promised Land, where his children can actually have a future. Of course, it will be due to the sacrifices of the men and women of the IDF, such as himself. If not exactly a valentine to the Israeli military, Infiltration is a high quality period production featuring consistently excellent work from its ensemble cast. It screens at the 25th Israel Film Festival tomorrow night (5/8), next Sunday (5/15), and the following Tuesday (5/17).