VIFF 2011 Review: Policeman (Ha-Shoter)

Policeman is an Israeli film released this year. What’s unique about this film is not just to tell two different stories about two different characters but also to present a theme and an ending that will provide a lot of heated discussion amongst many Israelis and some thoughtful discussion elsewhere around the world.

 The film is actually two stories in one. The first half of the film is dedicated to following the life of Yaron: a member of an Israeli anti-terrorism unit. Yaron is a likeable character: dedicated serviceman, family man and supportive husband to an expecting wife. However he has to deal with an operation gone wrong whom is group is being investigated for. They’re planning to make a terminally-ill colleague their scapegoat in order to avoid suspension. He’s seen as a tough and rugged man on the job and with his colleague but a tender man outside of his work.

The second half focuses on Shira, a poetic radical. She too leads a group of radicals who want to protest the division of rich and poor in Israel. As noble as her group sounds, sexual tensions between the members including Shira cause friction. Shira and her group want to give their ‘justice’ to the rich, which means killing them. They plan to organize a hostage-taking mission over at a wedding of a rich businessman’s relative. Shira is seen as passionate towards her cause but very snake-like in terms of conducting her methods.

Then the heist. The group come to the wedding posing as guests. Right at the time, the hostage taking happens. The CEO, his father, mother and the married couple are now hostages. Yaron now has to be part of the group to stop the heist. They devise a plan in the back room with careful planning. Before they start, Shira shouts out to them a chant: “Policemen, you are not our enemies. Policemen, you are also oppressed.” Right at the end, the tense standoff brings the two groups together abruptly.

One thing about this film is that it shows a unique twist that would shock a lot of people in Israel. Their country has mostly experienced Israeli vs. Palestinian conflict. This is a case of Israeli vs. Israeli. It would surprise many who would think that all Israelis are allies when one Israeli attempts to attack another. This topic is bound to make a lot of viewers in Israel uncomfortable or even angry. Those that know Israel well would best know about the poverty Shira is speaking of. Even those of us outside of Israel could identify with some of the incidents happening in the film. Here in Vancouver, our city is full of young radicals looking to make their statement, even though they often make ‘attention whores’ of themselves. Despite it, there are a lot of people angry with the city’s divide of rich and poor. Even though Policeman takes place in Israel, I’m sure there are some people that feel the same way Shira does.

This film is actually the debut feature ever directed by Nadav Lapid. This is a very courageous effort for a beginning director to tackle such a hot button in his country. Outside of the topic itself, the film is also good in its way of presenting two different characters and their surrounding lives before the attack. Yaron lives day to day while Shira dreams up to that day. Both outlooks are intimate as they are personal. You learn of both their strengths and their flaws before the attack.

Already this film has received buzz. This film has already received praising reviews at the Locarno Film Festival and even won its Special Jury Prize. It is a multiple award winner at the Jerusalem Film Festival. It would also be shown a week after the VIFF at the New York Film Festival. As of now, it doesn’t have a distributor but I believe this film is loaded with promise.

Policeman is an excellent daring debut from a director who’s not afraid to tackle hot topics. If you’re looking for a film that makes you think or even challenges your thoughts, this is a good one to see. Even if you don’t live in Israel, you will leave the theatre thinking.

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