Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Mike Burstyn
Screenwriter: Mike Burstyn
Cast: Yiftach Klein, Sammy Sheik, Alon Dahan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/4/18
Opens: April 12 in Israel. June 7, 2018 at JCC Manhattan
On Christmas Eve and the following day in 1914 during the early stages of the First World War, French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land to exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Events like this—enemies getting together as though friends, the phenomenon celebrated much later in the slogan “What if they gave a war and nobody came?—occur in the fictional drama “Azimuth.”
During the Six Day War enveloping Israel and five enemy nations in 1967, a cease-fire was declared, which was actually a euphemism for the end of the fighting. But not everyone heard about the action by politicians, so, on the seventh day, some did not rest. Two soldiers, Egyptian Rashid (Sammy Sheik), and Israeli Moti (Yiftach Klein), found themselves alone in the vast Sinai desert. Through plot machinations, they both find themselves hold up in a bombed-out UN building, not much more than two stories surrounded by beaten-up walls. The Israeli stayed on the first level, the Egyptians on the second. What will they do? Will they act as hostiles throughout, trying to shoot, explode, or otherwise kill the other as the only chance for survival? Will they talk, and arrange for a deal in a Kumbaya moment, shaking hands and wondering what all the fuss was about? For that you’ll have to see the movie which opened in Israel April 12, 2018 and will make an appearance at several Israel Film Festivals including one in Manhattan on June 7.
“Azimuth” is essentially a two-man show with some recent flashbacks giving the two time to reminisce about life just before they were called into service. For his part Moti thinks of better days, lying on the beach and taking photos of his sweetheart (Naama Preis), which segues into their wedding day when Moti is called into service by a messenger. This is the way it’s done in Israel, No snail mails from the Selective Service folks. For his part Rashid has a heart-to-heart with his Smira (Samar Qupty), debating how many children they will have—she wants three, he favors an army of tots. This is all to the point of “what’s-the-war-all-about” anti-war pleas from the director, Mike Burstyn. The Bronx-born director is known mostly for his acting in such Jewish-themes pics as “Kuni Leml,” “The Dybbuk,” and “Shabat Hamalka.”
Since two men must hold their own throughout, it’s a relief that the film is a brief 78 minutes, but even then there’s lots of repetition, and besides, you’d have to suspend disbelief not only because the action is bizarre but because the two soldiers from opposite sides speak fluent English to each other.
The film, which is part of the Israeli Festival this year, is set against other works, some good, some ridiculous, for example the terrific “The Cakemaker,” about a Berlin baker who has a fling with a married Israeli gentleman, and the disappointing “Shelter,” about a Lebanese woman being protected by a female Mossad agent in Germany.
For more info on the festival this year contact https://www.jccmanhattan.org/film/israel-film-center-festival/
Unrated. 75 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – B-
Technical – B
Overall – C+