Ahed's Knee (2021) Poster


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Left Israeli director disintegrates under nation's strain.
maurice_yacowar25 October 2021
Warning: Spoilers
The opening scene is a miniature of this powerful film's strategy. An abstract image turns into the subjective view of (what turns out to be) a woman motorcycling to audition for a film role. But that unbroken movement turns out to be an outside perspective upon her.

The ensuing narrative presents a left-wing Jewish filmmaker's outrage at the repressiveness and cruelty of the Israeli government. The film ultimately detaches from that character's rage and finds him self-destructive.

Most obviously, the director character Yud rails against Israeli censorship. The state won't allow criticism or controversy, he insists. But this film itself - supported, financed, unimpeded by the Israeli government - destroys that claim. In that region Israel is the only state that would allow such commentary in the arts or on political platforms.

In his misplaced indignation Yud would destroy the career of the young culture officer who has been taking care of him. Her name, Yahalon (or Diamond) evokes her value and beauty, that he in his unfounded indignation would destroy. His name, Yud, the 10th letter in the Hebrew alphabet, denotes "god," the creative power a director has over the film he's making - but is hubristically doomed if he tries to assert it in real life.

That this Yud does, disastrously, not just with Yahalon but in the anecdote he tells about his having staged a mass suicide to test a new recruit. Over the course of the narrative the tormentor becomes the tormented.

Yud's rant against the Israeli government will find ready agreement among the Israeli and diaspora far-left and among the global sector that finds anti-Zionism a handy veil for their antisemitism. Whether they admit the film's radical undermining of that position is another matter.

Yud suffers the PTSD of conflicted Israeli everyday life, not necessarily deriving from his Sinai service. He entered the army idealistically, hoping to become a warrior. He emerged coarsened, broken and extremist. Constantly under existential threat, Israelis live in intense polarization.

Yud emerges as a case of arrested development. His imperviousness to Yahalon's appeal may connect to his obsessive attention to his dying mother, to whom he obsessively sends messages. The death of his screenwriter mother may grow out of director Nadav Lapid's own mother having died shortly after editing his Golden Bear feature Synonyms.

So, too, the theme of an idealist turning sour recalls Lapid's The Kindergarten Teacher as well as Synonyms. Yud's tirade ends in his helpless weeping. He's exhausted by his own compulsive righteousness.

Lapid provides a hopeful balance in the young girl who consoles Yud: "Don't be angry. You are good." And "Do good and you will feel good." Redemption lies in the recovery of humane connections, not in raging self-righteousness - at either end of the political spectrum.

Yud survived the army and succeeded as a film director. But his rage disabled his changing with the times. Hence the references to his community's loss of its excellent red pepper industry, destroyed by climate change and competition from Spain. The Israelis' life under constant threat - from both outside and within - finds its humanity similarly at risk.

Typically, Israeli's Left cinema anatomizes the nation's mind and policy without openly defining the primary cause. Israel's conduct is condemned without acknowledging the existential threat that provokes it. Lapid detaches from the far Left anger, though his irony may not stand up to the power of his central character's rhetoric.

The title? The actress of that opening shot is auditioning to play the Israeli demonstrator against the government who is to be punished by the shattering of her knee. When the narrative shifts completely from that project to its director's own disintegration the film equates the two violent extremes in Israeli politics, Left and Right. The joint isn't jumping; it's crumbling.
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Good to see an Israeli film allowing self-criticism in a film seemingly approved by the authorities
JuguAbraham26 May 2022
Most countries, including mine, would not allow a film that is critical of life and freedom in that country. The film comes alive in the last quarter, the first three quarters being seemingly absurd. Good performance by the lead actor Avshalom Pollak. However, the director's earlier work "Synoymes" was superior.

My favorite sequence: The lead character, Y, a film director, swimming alone in a lovely waterbody in Gaza finding a carcass of a dead animal at the bottom. Encapsulates the entire film.
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Barren Land
pilacinska14 August 2022
Nadav Lapid, after having been awarded the Golden Bear for "Synonyms", "returns" to Paris from Israel with one of the most personal movies of the last decade, being both a human being's and an artist's internal journey of self-examination, as well as a radical political manifest questioning the notion of patriotism. The return to the motherland also becomes the return to the language which has been strongly disavowed in the previous movie. The tools of expression which have been used before, displaying the characteristics of metaphors and intellectual games, are here replaced by an expressive vortex, which hasn't been, however, void of symbolism. Although the screenplay has been completed in less than a fortnight, it's clear of serendipity and slip-ups, which is even more flabbergasting once the very limited budget of the project and the resulting improvisational load are taken into account.

The linearity of the plot becomes the background for the narrative vector pointed at the main protagonist, his interactions with the world and the political context. Military memories, again as palpable as they're deceiving, have already become the artist's trademark and been described as an unhealable wound. The starting point of the story is the case of Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian activist, who in 2017, after her brother had been shot during a riot, slapped an Israeli soldier, for which she had spent eight months in prison. The titular knee, however, pertains to a Twitter entry made by an ultra conservative lawyer, Bezalel Smotrich, which read: "In my opinion, she should've at least received a bullet in her knee. That would force her into lifelong house arrest." Such words, unmasking the disproportionate cruelty of radical Zionists, have been turned by the artist into an incentive to criticize the entire system.

Lapid puts Y (Avshalom Polak), his alter ego being a recognized director who's working on a movie about Tamimi, at the center of the story. Y is a man in the middle of an existential crisis, who has once drawn inspiration from the night lights, but now does so from the grittiness of the morning. During a break between auditions, he flies to Sappir, a small Israeli village, where - at the local library - the screening of his earlier movie is going to take place. Upon his arrival, he's greeted by Yahalom (Nur Fibak), a woman working at the Ministry of Culture who's responsible for popularizing art across this quite bizarre region whose population equals that of an average Israeli street. Both he, unapproachable and uncompromising, and she, gullible and blindly following the censorship laws enacted by her government, will soon become the pawns in a game commandeered by an artist on a warpath. Indeed, while watching a movie about making one, we witness the latter materialize - it's a genius technique only Lapid is capable of incorporating.

Y, similarly to Yoav from Synonyms, is the sum of the master's frustrations. The discontent with the motherland, instead of passing completely, has been exacerbated and taken the form of a whirlwind. Together with the director, we step across a barren land, scorched by the Sun, on which nothing is to take root. Literally, it's the desert of Sappir, but metaphorically - the spirit of Israel. The blade of anger is pointed at not only the government, which - under the guise of values - turns even more nationalistic, racist and xenophobic, but also the freedom of speech and creation. The citizens, the following generations of whom are enslaved by their inertia and let themselves be led on an increasingly shorter leash, are to blame, as well. They form a nation propped up by the pillars of the past, which may have put it onto the historical map of the world, but now, they need to be reflected upon and redefined. Here, and everywhere else, war is a means of staying in power. Whereas the obedience and servitude form signed by the artists, being tantamount to a humiliating pact with the Devil, becomes the symbol of shackles boding the question: who is an artist curbed by the rules of political correctness? Slandering the motherland leads to the proverbial death of hunger and mandatory banishment, as well as is rightfully compared to the reverberating PRL (Polish People's Republic) slogan that any hand raised at the governing body needs to be hacked off. As far as this matter is concerned, Lapid's work is consistent and cohesive. "Policeman", his 2011 debut movie, has already touched upon the issue of internal struggle and it being brutally contained by the state apparatus. However, in the context of the role of art in structuring awareness and critical thinking, the echoes of "The Kindergarten Teacher" (2014) are heard. As soon as the culture, which is considered the pillar of humanity, is faced with systemic violence, it becomes vulnerable, and the poets are sentenced to "extinction". And yet, the artist places the director at the very center, rendering him the one whose duty is to fight using at least words. At the same time, what can't go unnoticed is the smoldering hope, embodied on-screen by the face of a giggling child, which symbolizes the future, change and the time necessary for the revolutionary awareness to be born.

The story about soldiers and cyanide, which Y tells Yahalom at a certain point in the movie, serves as a parallel to the artist's relations with the governing body of the country. It fuels the deliberation on the issue of patriotism. Can criticism be identified as treason and should it evoke the feeling of remorse as we're blackening our birthplace? Who is Y, really? Another victim of the system? The one propagating the ideas of freedom and diversity? Or maybe the villain tormented by regrets? Everyone at once? The devil and the liberator who's going to be stoned by his own people? This explosive concoction simply crumbles the frame of the screen just to inject us into the protagonist's soul with force rarely seen at the cinema. What awaits at the end of the path is redemption, which entails accepting internal anger as an emotion, opportunism as the building block of a new value, and - last but not least - one's own sensitivity and goodness, all of which constitute human attributes.

Lapid's story of his personal struggle with the passing of his mother, who edited almost all his previous movies, has been interwoven into this political manifesto. Y uses his mobile phone to record a video of the sun-scorched vista, and then, sends messages to an absent addressee. The anger mixes with pain, longing and a time to which there's no going back, but which has been key. There's courage in being so emotionally exposed - maybe one that's greater than that needed to criticize the government. The director takes his foot off the accelerator by countering his own anger with kindness and nostalgia. The cathartic role of art reverberates fully.

"Ahed's Knee", the winner of the Jury's Award at last year's Cannes Film Festival, is, first of all, a movie that assaults the senses and gives the audience an almost claustrophobic experience of being grabbed by the throat. Fleeing the cinema is as impossible as having a relaxing movie screening. Time after time, we're being ejected out of the comfort zone. In order for us to catch a breath and stay in balance, from time to time, the director sways us lyrically with music, certain experiences, subtle references to love and women, as well as brilliant, but also somewhat dark, sense of humor, which is so typical of him. Both the shaky picture and the trademark shots of the sky amplify the feeling of being sucked into a different space-time continuum which is filled with pain, open wounds, and, first and foremost, anger. One needs to boast a strong artistic self-awareness in order to use such tools of expression and let oneself be so exposed, without becoming grotesque. After all, even when Lapid is completely direct, he manages to escape the triviality of being literal. He's able to achieve this due to the structure of the screenplay, but also thanks to the cinema language which he's known for. The emotional and political cleansing, which we and he go through, is free of entitlement, and the authenticity that flows out of it not only provides us with vital energy and a breath of fresh air, but also offers a borderline experience which stays with us long after the screen fades to black.
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guy-36631 December 2021
What is with the camera wildly swaying left and right, up and down, back and forth to suggest POV's but then they're not? I'm 30 minutes into this nonsense and I'm going to give it another 10... Because I paid 4.99. It's the kind of film that is supposed to be highly critical of its country's censorship (or so I read!) then gets all the important awards by that same country's Film Academy.
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