This poetical, musical, political and a drunk story is a satire of war with an unexpected twist. Director Rafi Bukai’s debut is both an auteur piece and one of the most important Israeli classics in history, and it was selected to represent the country at the Academy Awards in 1987. It’s also the first film in young country’s history to use real Arabs in the lead roles. Not surprisingly, it faced a backlash from of the country’s MPs back in the day.
Set in the desert of Sinai, two Egyptian soldiers travel exhausted and thirsty right right at the end of the Six Day War in 1967, fought between Israel and Egypt. After a long journey and the loss of few comrades, the two men, Haled and Gassan, enter a journey sacrifice and hardship. Worn out by the heat of the desert, and the aftermath of a lost war, the pair bring an unexpected edge to their quest, with their amusing and practical approach to survival. The humour is brought about by contrasting stereotypical and Israelis and Arabs, and mocking the pointlessness of war. You will easily relate and identify with these adorable characters. As they laugh, you too will laugh. As they struggle, you too will struggle.
Highlights of the film include a scene when the two Arabs find an abandoned UN jeep with a dead Swedish soldier and take the alcohol from the vehicle for their own consumption. They also encounter a British journalist disappointed with the shortage of carnage and casualities. The movie climaxes when they befriend three Israeli soldiers, and they bond over the helplessness of the situation. This is a derision of folly and a satire of war. These unlikely friends reveal how politics and religion divide people who are made to believe that they are different.
Avanti Popolo busts war myths and taboos one by one. Notions of identity quickly dissipate as the the friends laugh, drink and sing ‘Avanti Popolo’, a popular tune from the Italian labour movement celebrating the red flag of communism. There are also plenty of homoerotic undertones. Eventually, the impossible friends have to part, and a final twist of fate will change their lives for good, leaving audiences stunned.
Avanti Popolo shows at the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. It is part of the In Focus: Israel strand.