Upheaval: The Journey of Menachem Begin


An historic but unlikely friendship.

(2020) Documentary (Abramorama) Menachem Begin, Daniel Gordis, Ron Dormer, Arye Naor, Herzl Makov, Hart N. Hasten, Bruria Ben Senior, Lahav Harkov, Anita Shapira, Ghaith Al-Omari, Yoske Nachmios, Dan Meridor, Lee Phung, Yossi Klein Halevi, Joseph Lieberman, Yechiel Kadishai, Yona Klinovitski, Meir Y. Soloweichik, Stuart Eizenstat, Daniel Limor, Michael Oren, Caroline Glick. Directed by Jonathan Gruber

 

Menachem Begin, the sixth prime minister of Israel, remains a controversial figure. For some, he is beloved, the “best Prime Minister Israel ever had” as a man on the street puts it. Others see him as the architect for the misery that continues for the Palestinian people. One thing is certain; he was a complicated man who went his own way.

Gruber, who previously directed a doc feature on Yoni Netanyahu, brother to recently former Prime Minister Benjamin and leader of the raid on Entebbe Airport, takes a look at Begin, from his days as a Zionist in present-day Belarus (which was then a part of the Soviet Union) through his days as the leader of Irgun, labeled a terrorist group by the British and who hastened the British withdrawal from Palestine by bombing the King David Hotel in Jerusalem where the British military was headquartered, and founded Likud, the right-wing party which was the opposition party to the Labor party which ran Israel for the first thirty years of its existence.

We see his turbulent years as Prime Minister, including his desire to make Israel a haven for all Jews, regardless of nationality. He did welcome the African Jews when previously they were discriminated against, and even allowed the Vietnamese boat people safe harbor when no other Western nation would accept them. He is still revered in the small Vietnamese colony that thrives in Israel. We also see his lifelong devotion to his wife Aliza whose death in 1982 would throw him into a deep depression, directly leading to his resignation from his post a year later. Oddly, we don’t hear from any of his three children who are still alive today. Of course, though, his signature achievement was the peace treaty with Egypt that he negotiated with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat at Camp David in 1978, which was mediated by American President Jimmy Carter.

I wouldn’t quite label the documentary as hagiographic; Gruber does interview Jordan-born scholar Ghaith al-Omari regarding Begin’s reputation with the Palestinians. There is also coverage of his disastrous war on Lebanon which led to the massacre at Sabra and Shantila, two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon which were attacked by a right-wing Lebanese Christian militia while Israel troops did nothing to prevent it, an incident which would stain Begin’s legacy and bring calls for his resignation at home. He also is largely responsible for the settlement policy that is now at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and continues to be the root of violence in that part of the world.

In Gruber’s favor though is the density of information here and it is delivered at a pretty fast pace. We do get a good sense of Israel’s early years, of Begin’s feud with original prime minister David Ben-Gurion, and of how tenuous their position was in the beginning. Begin, who survived the Holocaust largely because he had been imprisoned by the Soviets for his Zionist beliefs, was helpless as much of his family died in concentration camps. He grew to believe that Jews had no allies and needed to learn to handle their own defense, which would require a Jewish homeland, a country of their own. Although Begin was initially often in conflict with the Israeli government, he is certainly a reason that there is one now.

REASONS TO SEE: Quick-paced and informative.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the talking heads are a little dry.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images of concentration camps and Middle East violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Begin, along with Anwar Sadat, received the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/11/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gaza
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Chasing Comets

Lebanon


Lebanon

The perfect addition to any floral arrangement - a tank.

(2009) War Drama (Sony Classics) Yoav Donat, Michael Moshonov, Zohar Strauss, Dudu Tassa, Itay Tiran, Oshri Cohen, Ashraf Barhom, Fares Hannaya. Directed by Samuel Maoz

 

War is hell, and hell can be made of iron, oil and cigarette smoke. It can be the stink of perspiration brought on by being trapped in a metal box in desert heat, the acrid smell of gunfire and the horrifying smell of charred flesh. War is hell and you can bring that hell with you.

In the 1982 Israeli-Lebanon conflict, the crew of a single tank – the commander (Tiran), the gunner (Donat), the loader (Cohen) and the driver (Moshonov) are given orders to clear out a Lebanese village that the Israeli Air Force has bombed into next week. After the gunner makes a hash out of a shot, the repercussions of his failure reverberate throughout the entire film.

Mainly we are inside the tank and see only parts of the crew – a face, a leg, a torso – and other than a few scenes our world is theirs. We see through the eyes of their targeting scope, and what they see is grim indeed.

Director Maoz was 20 years old when that war broke out and he served in the war as part of a tank crew (in fact Shmuel, the name of the gunner on the tank in the movie, is Maoz’s nickname). The experiences that are shown here are not unlike the ones he experienced himself; the horrible burden of taking a human life, the terror at being in the center of a barrage of fire, the tension of being lost behind enemy lines.

There aren’t many characters beyond the ones in the tank. There’s an officer (Strauss) who may or may not know what he’s doing, an interrogator (Barhom) who will do or say whatever is necessary to make his charge talk, and a captive (Tassa) who is in mortal danger from the interrogator but could turn on all of them in the blink of an eye.

From the sense that the movie invokes many of the tensions and horrors that those who serve in war experience, it is successful. Unfortunately, the acting performances vary wildly from ice cold and hard to read to wildly over the top and not believable. Moaz had wanted the actors to experience their roles more than play them and in casting he went less for acting experience and more for wartime experience. That has its pros and cons, the con largely being that some of the performances were a little too uneven. I like what he was trying to do; I just don’t think he had the cast that pulled it off completely. However, some of the performances – particularly that of Donat, Moaz’s surrogate and in a very real sense the audience surrogate as well, and also of Tiran, the officer holding his crew together by his fingernails – were memorable.

Be warned; this is a dimly lit film because of its location. The production design of the tank is extremely impressive; the belly is filthy, with oil, water, blood, urine and whatever other fluids are nearby pooling in the bottom, discarded cigarette butts and other trash floating in the muck. We don’t always get to fully appreciate the look but we appreciate the feel of the tank because we’re as close as a movie audience can get to being in one. The tank rattles, shakes, burps, vibrates and lurches like a living drunkard. It throws the men inside it around and rattles them around until their teeth chatter like novelty items. There is nothing glamorous about being in a tank crew and Moaz conveys this with stark honesty.

The movie is described as Das Boot in a tank and that’s probably the best and most profound description you’re going to get. If you loved that movie, you’re going to enjoy this one. This one isn’t quite as good – there’s nobody in it quite as compelling as Jurgen Prochnow’s Capt. Willenbrock – but it does invoke the same feeling of being alone in a tin can in a dangerous place where death can come at any moment.

WHY RENT THIS: Claustrophobic and realistic.  The tension is at a very high level throughout.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The acting is rather weak in places.

FAMILY VALUES: Being a war movie, there is some bloody violence related to war, plenty of bad language including some sexual references and a bit of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Caine’s grandfather had a similar job to Hobbs.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While most home video has a making-of featurette on the disc, this one is a cut above the rest as this film had a particularly arduous journey from conception to screen and more than being a back-patting lovefest as most making-of shorts are, this one is actually interesting.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.2M on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking that the movie broke even at best during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll