There are not many films that will make me ponder about my mortality. Sitting in the old-school cinema of The Projector last night, I think only Departures (2008) made me do that. About what exactly? About whether my life journey up to that point has yielded dividends in terms of significant milestones and character building; about whether I have laid the path ahead of me; about whether I have enriched my own life so that I can enrich others who crossed my path; about my legacy. Departures changed my life. Since then no other films have come along to make me contemplate the deeper aspects of my mortality. That is until last night.
The Farewell Party (2014) opened the Israeli Film Festival here and what a film it was. I found myself laughing so hard at the antics and ideas, but I think I got ahead of myself here. The story is about a group of old friends living in a retirement home for old folks. Life is hard when they see their friends slowly dying from debilitating diseases. So a tinkerer tinkers out a self-euthanising machine to put the choice of life or death in the hands of terminally ill patients. Soon the rumours of the machine spread and more people ask for their help. The group of friends are now faced with a life and death dilemma.
I think this gem of a film is what it means to laugh in the face of death. From the get go scene of a woman getting a phone call from God, me and my friends and a near full-house audience were laughing till our sides hurt. This is not rude humour of the Hollywood kind but sensitive and compassionate. By tackling the difficult theme of euthanasia through comedy, it provides a way into a labyrinthine can of worms. It feels real and genuine, not made up to gain sympathies. The tone is deftly maintained from the first scene to the last with nary a misstep. Nothing is overcooked; everything timed perfectly. It is warm and comforting; like snuggling underneath a warm blanket with your significant other in cold weather. There is joy coupled with deep sadness. Get ready to laugh through streaming tears.
The writing is marvellous and effortless in a sense that the two writer-directors must have written this from a deep place of hurts but yet it doesn’t want to wring your emotions dry. It rises above the common denominator and glides from scene to scene like an angel on wings. It is thorough but never exhausting. It dares to ask hard questions but never forces its ideas down your throat. Get ready to debate after the movie because you will want to. The acting by the ensemble cast is amazing. Watch out for a scene in which they wear nothing just to cheer a friend up. The exquisite balancing act is sheer masterclass. Not many directors would be able this pull it off and I think you really need to be an amazing human being to be able to do this, and we got two here.
Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon were there last night with an illuminating post-film discussion. Their talk was candid, heartfelt and they shared from a deep place. I had a chance to talk to them later about a scene in which the actors did a song number that felt like the only misstep for me and you know what… their explanation convinced me it wasn’t. Love the film; love them.
4 / 5