KIPPUR directed by Amos Gitai, written by Gitai and Marie-José Sanselme, produced by Gitai, Michel Propper and Laurent Truchot, with Liron Levo, Tomer Ruso, Uri Ran-Klausner, Yoram Hattab and Guy Amir. 120 minutes. Opens Friday (June 1). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 153. Rating: NN
sam fuller once proposed that the best war movie might be one where you could fire real shots into the audience and have actual casualties in the theatre.
Fuller made The Big Red One based on his own combat experience in the second world war. His lesson: war is not only hell, it's a hell where even Satan has lost his grip. It's not the violence that makes war hell, it's the chaos.
Seen in the long history of war movies -- and against the proud, tumescent Pearl Harbor -- Amos Gitai's Kippur owes most to Sam Fuller. Like Fuller, he draws on his own experience.
Gitai was an Israeli soldier in 1973, fighting the Yom Kippur War against Egypt and Syria.
In Kippur, he follows two soldiers, Weinraub and Ruso, as they drive their little Fiat toward the front lines, hook up with a helicopter rescue squad and then spend their days flying in to mop up bodies.
Apart from a regrettable love scene that bookends the film, that's pretty much all that happens. Gitai (Kadosh) keeps veering away from dramatic crescendos, from psychological insights, from anything that implies a gain.
This is a film where war exists as a continuous present, a flow of death, damage and incident. No motivation, no consequence, and very minimal structure. And that's no accident, but the point of this film. Kippur wants to present the unvarnished experience of war. Even the opening of Saving Private Ryan, by many accounts the current high point of verisimilitude, looks stagey and theatrical by comparison.
But in being true to the experience of war, Gitai rejects the needs of narrative. A viewer wants a story, and a story demands that incidents connect. This movie offers one rescue scene after another. It feels more like footage than filmmaking.
But if Kippur insists on a narrative vacuum, it does try to fill that space with philosophy.
Late in the film, the soldiers attempt to carry a wounded man out of a mud-stuck field. They lift him, he falls. They lift again, he falls again. Their bodies are slick with mud and the wounded man might even be dead, but still they keep trying.
It's a striking image, and it echoes all the way from Sam Fuller to Ionesco and back. But it's a long wait for futility.