IMAGE OF VICTORY – movie review

IMAGE OF VICTORY (Tmunat Hanitzahon)

Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Avi Nesher
Screenwriter: Avi Nesher, Liraz Brosh, Ehud Bleiberg
Cast: Joy Rieger, Amir Khoury, Ala Dakka, Eliana Tidhar, Tom Avni
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/14/22
Opens: July 15, 2022 streaming on Netflix

Israel is a small country surrounded by Muslim nations—whose population outnumbers Israeli Jews 100 to 1. Historically, Muslim nations are not great supporters of Israel, having fought five wars against the Jewish nation. Yet Israel has survived and prospered. When Israel defeated Egypt and Syria in the six-day war in 1967, you could not blame people for believing that Israelis could not be defeated, yet as we see in “Image of Victory,” though Egypt lost the 1948 war of independence, it succeeded in temporarily conquering some land, notably a kibbutz (collective farm) in the South near the border of Egyptian-controlled Gaza.

You would not expect a film that glorifies a victory by Egypt to be shown to Israeli audiences, much less to be financed and directed by Israelis, but “Tmunat Hanitzahon as the movie is called in Hebrew was shown at the Haifa International Festival and garnered three Ophirs, which are Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars.

Avi Nesher, who directs and co-write the film, is no stranger to courageous films such as his “The Other Story,” about the meeting of two women, one disgusted with the hedonistic secular life seeking the discipline of Judaism, the other wanting to break through the oppressiveness of religion. Here he takes us first to kibbutz Nitzanim showing us life in a primitive farm that sells it produce to Tel Aviv, then to an Egyptian settlement so close that with a good pair of binoculars you might almost capture scenes highlighting the ambitions of Hassanein Heikal (Amir Khoury) , a 24-year-old filmmaker in love with cinema who is eager to knock out a propaganda film for Egypt’s leader, King Farouk. The film opens as the now middle-aged man is angered that Sadat signed a peace with Israel at Camp David, complaining, what’s the sense of fighting wars when the politicians sell us out?

In the kibbutz we witness the songs and fights among an ensemble of Jews from South America and Europe, some who are Holocaust survivors, speaking a flurry of language but communicating through Hebrew which they were compelled to learn if they wanted to have a sustainable community. The non-conforming Mira Ben-Ari’s (Joy Rieger), marriage is on the rocks through no fault of her husband (Elisha Banai)with whom she had fallen out of love. She will show her bravery by refusing to evacuate when a conflict with the enemy is imminent. Her son sleeps in a separate room since at that time, kibbutzniks believed in a communal life in which every mother has an almost equal standing with every child: it takes a village.

It should be known that while Jewish settlers in Israel at about the time of independence were known to take over Arab lands by force, this kibbutz, founded in 1943 with fewer than 150 members, was purchased with money raised by the Jewish National Fund. (I recall that when I was ten years old I helped to raise money, asking donors to put their quarters inside a collection box and handing each contributor a symbolic carnation.)

When Nesher focuses on the Egyptian side, we see that Hassanein’s films are periodically sent to Cairo where an audience vets the content for later release to all of Egypt. Some are annoyed with what appears to be a neutrality by the director who is not unsympathetic to the Israeli cause and, in fact, when the kibbutz ultimately has to surrender because it had not received the weapons and reinforcement it needed, Hassanein appears to fall in instant love with Mira’s image.

Much of the film looks like a reenactment of small-town life in an American Western; the Jews are in their basic living quarters situated on 400 acres; the Egyptians, just kilometers away, have forays against the Jews but everything is pared down, just a few players on each side. By contrast, cinematographer Amit Yasur splashes a scene in Cairo on New Year’s Eve, 1947 turning into the year that Israel declares independence. There is lively music and dancing which would not be out of place in an American banquet hall, a guy with a fez standing out to project that this is nothing less than the capital of a Middle Eastern country.

“Image of Victory” will be looked at by the scores of awards groups perhaps not so much as a best international film but as a winning ensemble feature. The characters on the Jewish side display a spirit of joy destroyed obviously, by their ultimate defeat by Egyptians, who are helped by scores of soldiers with tanks and bazookas, who succeed in killing 37 residents and taking others prisoner.

128 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical –B+
Overall – B+