Dir: Amos Gitai. Israel. 2000. 123 mins
Prod Co: MP Productions (Fr), Agav Hafakot, Studio Canal Plus, Arte France Cinema, R & C Produzioni (It). Int'l Sales: President Films, (+33 1 4562 8222). Prod: Michael Propper, Amos Gitai. Scr: Amos Gitai, Marie-Jose Sanselme. DoP: Renato Berta. Prod des: Miguel Markin. Ed: Monica Coleman, Kobi Netanel. Mus: Jan Garbarek. Main cast: Liron Levo, Tomer Ruso, Uri Ran Klauzner, Yoram Hattab, Guy Amir.
Kippur is the kind of film where you could pop out for dinner and return later secure in the knowledge that nothing of great consequence will have transpired in your absence. Painfully slow-moving and sincere, it uses true life incidents from the 1973 War Of Yom Kippur between Israel and Syria to reflect on the folly of armed conflict and the price paid by those in the front line. Unfortunately, a documentary or a brief news bulletin would have more impact than the soporific film that Amos Gitai has wrought from such promising material. Those encouraged into the cinema by the director's admired 1999 Cannes Competition entry Kaddosh will be acutely disappointed by this flatly handled follow-up. Commercial possibilities are negligible.
Opening moments hint at a better film than the one that unfolds as a young man runs through deserted streets on Yom Kippur. Later he is seen with his partner in a bed of paint that is spread, smudged and mixed into a rainbow of colour by their passionate lovemaking. Little that follows matches the hypnotic quality of this beginning.
Long, contemplative takes, sequences bereft of dialogue and forgettable performances are the hallmarks of a project telling of the man and a friend who rush to the Golan Heights upon hearing of a surprise attack by Syria. There is a schoolboy naivety in their excitement over the prospect of war. Unable to reach their special unit, they meet a doctor en route to the air force base at Ramat David and are soon part of a team tending to the injured and evacuating the casualties.
The unexpected level of fatalities and the chaotic conditions in which they serve soon satisfy their appetite for war. Quiet interludes allow them to express their fears and confide their doubts and dreams. Gitai however is content to spend most of the film merely observing them as they traverse bleak, battle-scarred landscapes or wade through muddy fields, often arriving too late and too ill-equipped to be of any assistance to their stricken colleagues. The film belatedly flickers into life during the closing fifteen minutes of its two hour running time when their helicopter is shot down and they themselves are added to the casualties of war.
The main problem with Kippur is that countless classic war films, endless Vietnam dramas and numerous episodes of television's M*A*S*H have covered similar ground with much more depth, wit or insight. Whatever may have transpired in life, the story on film is not that singular or compelling. Consequently endless minutes tick by as hopes of something interesting happening begin to fade away. Beyond committed critics, it's difficult to imagine a general audience having the patience to stay the course when the rewards are so meagre.