Amos Gitai’s “Kippur” is a classic war film, at once elegiac and immediate, that takes you smack into the chaos of combat yet is marked by a detached perspective.
Already acclaimed at major festivals, the film is drawn from Gitai’s experiences serving in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Egypt and Syria launched attacks on Oct. 6, in the Sinai and the Golan Heights, respectively. Gitai, therefore, has had 27 years to stand apart from what he witnessed, and he brings it alive to us with clarity and reverence.
Gitai has no propaganda axes to grind. His mission is to convey what he experienced firsthand and let that sink in. The overwhelming sensation so eloquently evoked by Gitai and his formidable cameraman, Renato Berta, is that of sheer fatigue; indeed, Gitai has predicted that the Mideast conflict will resolve itself only when all sides are at last overcome by exhaustion.
From the first frame, Gitai establishes a sense of ease and authority. The Day of Atonement has emptied streets, and Gitai’s alter ego Weinraub (Liron Levo)–Weinraub is Gitai’s middle name–is in the midst of passionate lovemaking when sirens go off. Gitai creates an acute sense of how war swiftly overtakes an individual’s life. Taking off in his secondhand Fiat 128, Weinraub picks up his friend Ruso (Tomer Ruso), and they head for the Golan Heights, where they are to meet with their unit. Traffic jams and detours delay them until the Syrian advance forces them to turn back.
Sleeping in the car by the side of a road, they are awakened by a doctor, Klauzner (Uri Ran Klauzner), whose own car has stalled. They take him to his destination, the air force base at Ramat David, where within the hour they’ve become members of a seven-man helicopter team, charged with rescuing the battlefield wounded and downed pilots.
Gitai has said that he and Berta wanted to make “Kippur” “without leaving the human face and without being carried away by the spectacular dimension of war films.” And that is precisely what they’ve done.
Weinraub and Ruso, both vigorous young men, plunge right into the rescue operation, along with the others, focusing entirely on saving lives as rapidly as possible. They encounter many fatalities, many men hideously injured, and they just keep going until they’re able to grab some rest back at the base. They are forming bonds in the face of danger that are likely to last a lifetime–however long a span that will prove to be.
There’s no time for us to learn much about these men, and conventional exposition, beyond some brief self-revealing remarks by Glauzner and by Yoram Hattab, the helicopter’s pilot, would destroy the film’s overpowering sense of reality. (Gitai has already made a documentary, “Kippur: Memories of War,” in which the real-life surviving members of his team recount their experiences.)
There are no self-conscious heroes among these men; they are all men who are doing the best they can, and that means giving one another comfort and support in overcoming fear, exhaustion and facing down the horror of all that surrounds them. Gitai and Berta take us into the eye of the storm, with many lengthy and continuous takes, following the men on the fields and back into the whirling copter that swoops them up and takes them back to the base. “Kippur” is one of those handful of films that makes you feel what war is really like, made by individuals who resist glorifying and mythologizing battle.
The war experience inspired him to abandon architecture for filmmaking–“I needed to learn a profession that would allow me to apprehend society and history around me,” he has said. After 23 years of filmmaking, Gitai, now 50, achieved international renown only recently, first with “Kadosh,” his stunning drama set in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community, Mea Shearim. With “Kadosh” and “Kippur,” Gitai became the first Israeli director to have two films selected for competition at Cannes.
Kippur, 2000. Unrated. MP Productions/Agava Hakafot/Le Studio Canal Plus/Arte France Cinema/R&C;Produzioni, in association with Canal Plus, Telad, Eldan and Tele Plus. Director Amos Gitai. Producers Michel Propper, Amos Gitai, Laurent Truchot. Screenplay by Gitai and Marie-Jose Sanselme. Cinematographer Renato Berta. Editors Monica Coleman and Kobi Netanel. Music Jan Garbarek. Costumes Laura Dinulesco. Production designer Miguel Markin. In Hebrew, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes. Liron Levo as Weinraub. Tomer Ruso as Ruso. Uri Ran Klauzner as Klauzner, the doctor. Yoram Hattab as Yoram, the helicopter pilot. A Kino International release of an Israeli-Italo-French co-production as .