QUIC K AND DIRTY: L:IVE FROM LOCARNO
Slomi (Ido Tako) is just 18 years old and in love with the young and beautiful Shiri. Like all Israeli men of his age, he has to serve in the military. He panics upon learning that his lovebird is due to fly to Canada in order to attend college, in just two weeks. So he runs away from the military, just like the film title suggests. He leaves behind a trail of death and oppression, plus a vast network of people wondering whether he’s dead or has been kidnapped by the Palestinians. The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and the secret agency Mossad decide that the latter option best suits their narrative. So they set out on a mission to liberate the poor soldier from the hands of the evil enemy, while conveniently aggrandising/propagandising their intrepid actions.
Our young, handsome and somewhat naive protagonist is aware that his actions could have very serious consequences for his regiment, for Palestinians and – far more significantly – for himself. Should the authorities ever find out that he defected entirely out of free will, he would face a lengthy custodial sentence. He visits his mother Rachel and his ailing father Yoel (who suffered a heart attack after witnessing a bomb attack). The former soon realises the gravity of the situation, begging her son to forge a “voluntary” return, while also protesting her vulnerable husband from the bitter truth. It soon becomes evident that Israel oppresses young men in manifold ways. All Israeli males beginning at age 18 are required to serve 32 months in the military, except Arab citizens. As far as I’m aware, no country in the world offers asylum to young Israelis seeking to evade such cruel fate.
On his chaotic journey for love and freedom, Shlomi comes across people – Israelis and foreigners alike – who celebrate the Israeli military and the concoction of national heroes (he could be deemed one himself, if he was to be killed by the Palestinians). But he feels no allegiance towards such people. In fact, he is prepared to rob and defraud them, as we find out in the film’s most tragicomic sequence. Nothing will stop Shlomi in his chosen personal battle for happiness.
Shlomi isn’t politically-driven. He remains mostly indifferent to the constant television reports announcing the number of casualties on both sides. Overall, The Vanishing Soldier refrains from making an overt political statement. However, any vaguely non-conformist action can be deemed deeply subversive in Israel. The mere seeking of adolescent love thus becomes a politically-charged gesture. This means that Dani Rosenberg’s third feature film makes a subtle yet unequivocal anti-war statement without slipping into didacticism and pamphleteering. Instead, it uses the psychology of a young, tormented individual as a metonymy for his nation’s troubled identity, and its ubiquitous military apparatus. It also denounces the machinations of a system that tyrannises the Occupied Palestinian Teritories as well as its very own citizens. A watertight alliance of the government, the Defense forces and the mainstream media leaves virtually no room for dissent. On the other hand, the film lapses into some familiar cliches and tiresome narrative devices, particularly in its final quarter of an hour, rendering the denouement a little predictable.
The Vanishing Soldier just premiered in the Official Competition of the 76th Locarno Film Festival. A dirty gem that merits a viewing both inside and outside Israel.