Monday, May 18, 2015

The Farewell Party: Israel Tackles Euthanasia

Frankly, euthanasia is a pretty new problem for Israel. In the past, if you wanted to go, you could just sit in an outdoor café and wait for a hateful, anti-Semitic Hamas terrorist to do the job for you. It is a tribute to the country’s security services that elderly Israelis now have to take a more proactive (but illegal) role in their final exits. Fortunately, an inventor and his assisted living cronies have the resources to help in Sharon Maymon & Tal Granit’s The Farewell Party (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Yehezkel is a big-hearted guy, who still enjoys tinkering in his workshop and babysitting his granddaughter with his beloved wife, Levana. Sadly, her memory issues will eventually get progressively worse, but Yehezkel’s immediate concern is his old friend Max. He is a terminal case, who is only receiving palliative treatment that is not working to any appreciable extent. When Max and his distraught wife appeal to Yehezkel for help, he develops a Kevorkian-like contraption in consultation with Dr. Daniel, a pro-euthanasia veterinarian who recently moved into the complex. The inventor and the vet will do the set-up, and Daniel’s secret lover, the married ex-cop Raffi Segal will scrub the evidence, but Max will push the button himself.

Much to their initial alarm, rumors start to spread about Max’s assisted suicide, leading to awkward requests from strangers. Despite Levana’s principled objections, Yehezkel is inclined to oblige. However, their positions reverse as her condition progressively deteriorates.

Clearly, the aging of the Israeli population is a zeitgeisty topic, with Farewell releasing around the same time as Reshef Levi’s grumpy old men caper Hunting Elephants. Since Israel was not driven into the sea, it will have to struggle with the same demographic challenges of most other western democracies. Maymon & Granit’s film is the classier package, but Levi’s movie is way more fun.

Arguably, there is nothing approaching the twinkle in Sasson Gabai’s eye throughout Elephants in Farewell. Aside from an admittedly funny closet gag involving Segal, it is really a dramedy in name only. Evidently, Granit and Maymon had a hard time finding humor in fatal illness, dementia, and assisted suicide. However, it is rather touching when it addresses themes relating to love and friendship.

As Yehezkel and Levana, Ze’ev Revah and Levana Finkelshtein truly lower the emotional boom, while Ilan Dar adds a needed dash of vigor as the impish Dr. Daniel. The entire cast is adept at balancing the film’s weightier moments with its comparatively lighter interludes. However, Maymon & Granit really get heavy-handed when directly tackling the issue of euthanasia. In truth, there is a reason Israeli law rightly or wrongly privileges life over death—it is all the terror and killing they have endured from forces that embrace death over life. Recommended on its dramatic merits for patrons of Israeli cinema, The Farewell Party opens this Friday (5/22) in New York, at the Angelika Film Center and the Cinema 1,2,3.