Set in an Israel facing fresh internal divisions, Nadav Lapid’s politically shrewd, strikingly shot debut has two beginnings and an ending that offers no true sense of closure. Precisely calibrated, the film starts out by observing the bonding rituals of a counter-terrorism officer and the close-knit unit to whom he is unswervingly loyal. The corps of macho professionals come together for a family gathering with spouses, greeting one another with comically loud backslaps. A guardian of Israel’s well-being on the domestic front as well, the buff policeman of the title dotes on his very pregnant wife.
But that, as they say, is only half the story: segueing via a scene of anonymous punks pummeling a stranger’s car, the focus switches to a band of Israeli anarchists. The young radicals (as in Carlos, the revolution will be attractively staffed) rehearse a manifesto about economic equality. The agenda in question is not strictly aligned along the familiar Palestinian-Israeli axis, and the emphasis in fact predates the country’s upheaval last summer, as the film’s ideas germinated years earlier in a novel by Lapid, originally a writer and journalist.
The terrorists’ plan of action is far from bloodless—taking a billionaire’s daughter hostage at her wedding—and so Lapid pointedly sets the stage for violent confrontation. Yet from the get-go an ambient unease has been built into the film’s thoughtful cutting and framing, more Antonioni than Haneke. And as the setting shifts from open and well-lit spaces to a claustrophobic basement standoff, it’s clear that the action’s conclusion will not yield catharsis. Lapid’s film makes us feel it viscerally: the physical vitality of its police notwithstanding, the body politic remains unwell.
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