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KIPPUR(director/writer: Amos Gitai; screenwriter: Marie-José Sanselme; cinematographer: Renato Berta; editor: Monica Coleman; music: Jan Garbarek; cast: Uri Ran Klauzner (Dr. Uri Ran Klauzner), Pini Mittleman (Hospital Doctor), Liron Levo (Sgt. Weinraub), Tomer Russo (Lt. Ruso), Yoram Hattab (Helicopter Pilot), Juliano Merr (The Captain), Guy Amir (Gadassi), Ran Kauchinsky (Shlomo), Kobi Livne (Kobi), Liat Glick Levo (Dina), Keren Gitai (Young Soldier), Noach Faran (Rescue Commander), Shai Gani (Army Doctor); Runtime: 123; Kino; 2000-Israel/France)
“It’s as good a war film as I have ever seen, and that includes the gritty hard-nosed Sam Fuller’s autobiography The Big Red One.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A gritty realistic view of a first-aid rescue team during the surprise invasion of Israel by Syria and Egypt in October 1973, which came to be known as the Yom Kippur War. It has been inspired by director Amos Gitai’s (Kadosh) experience during the war. It takes you right into the war without yielding to any phony theatrics and is equal if not superior to the first 30 minutes of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” before that film lapsed into melodramatics. If you want to see a war experience film without any political trappings or unrealistic Hollywood heroics or needless sentimentality, this film captures a few intense days of that brief and bloody war by letting you have a view from the ground floor.

It’s as good a war film as I have ever seen, and that includes the gritty hard-nosed Sam Fuller’s autobiography “The Big Red One.” The only difference is that this film has a different purpose in mind, as it doesn’t conclude with a conventional war payoff. The war is hell theme really means something here, while in most war films lip service goes out to that theme yet the body of the film exploits the bloody battles. Not here: the battles are superfluous, the enemy invisible, and there’s time at the end for deep reflections about what war really means and how it scars you. The film might not be anti-war, but it certainly shows war in a different light from how it is usually glamorized. And, it does so by showing that the men have no doubt about carrying out their mission and are willingly risking their life to get the job done even though their mission is absurd. This war film might also surprise those unfamiliar with the Israeli Army, how informal and patriotic they are without the need to be waving the flag.

The film opens in the empty Tel Aviv streets, as the Jews celebrate their holiest day of the year. It then turns to the film’s hero and the director’s alter ego, Weinraub, who celebrates the holiday as he smears paint on his attractive girlfriend while they’re making love. The film closes on that same note when he returns from the front. In between, there are the contrasting bloody battle scenes that he has to fight to preserve his right to live in freedom.

When the radio announces the attack on Israel and the call-up of the reserves, the intellectual Weinraub leaves to go to war in his uniform.

Sgt. Weinraub is driving Lt. Ruso in his second-hand Fiat to join their unit on the Syrian front and in their rush to get there they encounter a traffic jam, which gives Weinraub time to talk about having just read Marcuse’s “One-Dimensional Man.” Ruso only impatiently urges Weinraub to move faster. The idealistic and gung-ho Ruso declares “This is our generation’s war, and he doesn’t want to miss it.” Since he never experienced war, he has no idea what he is anxious to be driving to.

When Weinraub and Ruso reach the front they are told to turn back — that their unit retreated, that the Syrians broke through their lines. On the road back they give an unshaven Air Force doctor whose car broke down a lift, Dr. Uri Ran Klauzner. He takes them north to his rescue unit in Ramat David. In the chaos and uncertainty of the war, Weinraub and Ruso immediately become part of the rescue squad and forget about rejoining their unit.

They bring out the wounded in stretchers and load them on helicopters while under heavy mortar fire, as the bloody battle is raging around them. No one seems to be giving them orders, as the fog of war blurs things and makes everything confusing. There are heavy casualties and many dead bodies strewn on the field. After the first day battle the doctor and Ruso talk about their experience, as they note in war one loses one’s sense of time. The doctor tells of how his mother during WW 11 was taken away by the Nazis to be killed in the camps and he was raised in Belgium not even knowing he was a Jew until much later. Ruso wants to tell how sad he feels about the war taking him away from his girlfriend, but realizes he has matured much already after one day of battle and the doctor’s tale is more important than his.

The battles go on for several more days, as one day looks like another. In one memorable scene the stretcher bearers drop a casualty into the mud and are forced to leave him even when they aren’t sure if he’s alive or dead. Also one of the men breaks down and has to be calmed. The final battle scene is the most gruesome as the men get shot down behind enemy lines over the Golan Heights by a missile while in their rescue chopper, and one of them dies while others receive injuries such as: shrapnel wounds, broken limbs, critical neurological injuries, and all of them whether receiving minor or critical wounds are smeared with the black soot of destruction and not the paint of joy. The action is relentless, the horrors told are numbing, and there are no heroes just citizens acting bravely as soldiers to defend their country. The overall effect of its vivid images is stunning. It makes you think about the war, as it doesn’t push any agenda down the viewer’s throat. Yet it’s still only a film, as no film can fully capture what it’s like to be in a war no matter how realistic it seems. Though I thought this film comes pretty close to getting it completely right, all you needed was real bullets buzzing over your head as you sat in the theater.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”