Nadav Lapid, who won the Berlin Golden Bear for Synonyms, blasts his way into the Cannes competition with Ha’Berech (Ahed’s Knee). Whereas his previous film was about a man searching to shrug off his Israeli identity, Lapid’s latest outing is all about a man confronting his Israeli identity and painfully dissecting what it means to be a man of this country.
As with Synonyms, the character is loosely based on the director’s own personal trajectory, albeit in exaggerated form. In this case, Lapid interweaves the story of a filmmaker on a journey to a far outpost of his country to show his film while simultaneously saying farewell to his dead mother. The pain is raw, whether it’s the pain of his bereavement or the pain that he feels for what his country has become.
The film opens with a motorbike ride through rainy Tel Aviv arriving at a studio where we watch the auteur filming a story based on an angry tweet about shooting a Palestinian activist in the knee. The director is played by actor Avshalom Pollak, who excels as the tormented director. From the sodden metropolis, the action shifts to the remote town and the journey also shifts something in the director’s memory. He recalls his army days and recounts a tale of that time: the rookie soldier, the sadistic sergeant, the cruelties perpetrated. His captive audience of one is the woman who has organised his trip, the deputy head of libraries. She is played with great comedic panache by Nur Fibak, appearing in her first major role here.
Lapid incorporates plenty of music and a few dance sequences here, perhaps a nod to his leading actor’s own background in choreography. The local beekeeper dances, the brutal soldiers dance, a group of female soldiers have a routine and even the director puts on his headphones and shimmies to his music. This fits with the feel that the film has, with the protagonist’s heightened emotions mirrored in the dreamlike – or nightmarish – sequences.
Lapid is pulling no punches here: his anger at his government and his frustration with his fellow countrymen’s lack of reaction to the destruction of Palestine is felt viscerally through his leading man. In a nice touch, the opening credits state that the film was made with the aid of Israeli state funding, an unlikely possibility given the subject matter and the anti-government content here. This is a loud, in-your-face film that may lack subtlety but has passion in abundance.