Reviewed for FilmFactual.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Nadav Lapid
Screenwriter: Nadav Lapid
Cast: Avshalom Pollak, Nur Fibak, Oded Azulay, Michal Benkovitz Sasu, Roni Boksbaum
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/21/22
Opens: May 3, 2022 on Apple TV, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, Kino Now. May 31, 2022 on VOD
Some fans of Broadway theater (not many) complain that the stage tries too hard to mimic the style of movies. Likewise, some moviegoers (also not many) complain that films try too hard to imitate the style of TV. (What’s left for TV fans to debate: whether that medium imitates radio?) Nadav Lapid would be in the company of those who want movies to do what is not usually done on the small screen. Remember his “Synonyms,” which centers on an Israeli man, dictionary in hand, who experiments with giving up his nationality?
With “Ahed’s Knee,” he goes further than with “Synonyms” in the spirit of suggesting Israeli nationality is not as great as some claim it to be. The film was presented at the Palme d’Or at Cannes where it won the Jury prize. One must wonder what kind of reception it would enjoy if shown in Jerusalem to a Jewish-Israeli audience.
Y (Avshalom Pollak), a middle-aged filmmaker who heads off to a small, remote village in the desert, is presenting “Ahed’s Knee” to a likewise small audience in the town’s library. His is a courageous decision given the small-town Israelis are likely to be more conservative, more nationalistic, than a typical, cosmopolitan resident of Tel Aviv. The reception he is to receive is based not on what residents have seen on the screen but rather what they hear during the Q&A afterwards. His diatribe, his broadside against his country mimics what he in confidence tells his host, Yahalom David (Nur Fibak), a monologue that is near-biblical in its resonance, spewing his disgust with what he calls the racist, nationalistic spirit in his government and in a broad majority of its people. One must wonder whether this venom rages partly because he, who appears close enough emotionally to his mother judging by his emails to her, is distraught about her diagnosis of lung cancer.
A filmmaker who in his words wants “to puke Israel out with a scream” is one-upping the countries worst enemies—in Syria, Lebanon, and with ISIS, Al-Queda, Hezbollah, Hamas, among others. The film starts with an exposition about Ahed, a protestor, threatened on Twitter with being shot in the kneecap. Such is the anger of the right-wing Israelis who probably vote Likud, a party that the filmmaker obviously detests. In fact when a farmer points out the effects of climate change on his pepper crop—now wilted and rotten—Y notes that he could be stating a metaphor about Israeli itself.
With cinematographer Shai Goldman’s hand-held cameras spinning dizzyingly, “Ahed’s Knee” catches how Y imagines his younger days in the Israeli army when the contingent of soldiers are told to take cyanide because they are surrounded by the Syrian army. A wild dance scene to heavy metal joined by female Israeli soldiers that could have lost each person five pounds in ten minutes precedes what may have been a false alarm. Though the dance may appear to be out of the blue, having little to do with the plot, Lapid may have used the break to show his love for what cinema can show.
In the end, Lapid, using Avshalom Pollak’s character Y as a stand-in for himself, may know that many in his audience will want to stone him for his anti-government ideas. He is content to be himself, to call attention to his grievances not necessary to change minds—this is not likely. It is enough that he employs his cinematic imagination to cut to his leftist beliefs in what he considers the rot that has spread within the ruling party; a disease that hardly existed in the days of the country’s founding when Jews “made the desert bloom,” when the thought of Arab resistance was not yet considered at least among Israeli’s friends in America.
While not as opaque as “Synonyms” appears to many moviegoers, “Ahed’s Knee” is a refreshing and deeply felt look at one Israeli’s rage, when Y’s threat to email a conversation he had with his host serves like an Uzi, keeping a hostile crowd at bay.
In Hebrew with English subtitles.
109 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B+