Film review of The Farewell Party

October 30, 2014

(This film review of “The Farewell Party” appeared in the Australian Jewish News on October 23, 2014.)

Directed by Tal Granit and Sharom Maymon

Starring Ze’ev Revach, Levana Finkelshtein, Aliza Rosen, Ilan Dar and Rafi Tabor

Further proof that Israeli film has gone “mainstream” arrives with the black comedy “The Farewell Party” (Hebrew: “Mita Tova”), part of this year’s Jewish International Film Festival here in Australia. This unusual story features a group of elderly Jerusalem aged care home residents who build and successfully operate a euthanasia machine to help the desperate to die.

Conventional film-making usually ignores films about ageing and dying: how do you turn the depressing into an uplifting story?  “Benjamin Button” did it through inverting the chronology, “Harold and Maude” through a May-December relationship and the characters in “Cocoon” found eternal life.  But “The Farewell Party” is more grounded in the reality of death and dying.

The opening scene sets the comic tone:  former engineer Yehezkel enjoys “playing God” by ringing a very elderly woman, comforting her by using a voice synthesiser to sound like the Almighty.  However, his devoted wife Levana is in early – and rapidly increasing – stages of dementia, and their close friends Yana and Max are facing a crisis, with Max in the final painful stages of life.  With the assistance of Dr Daniel, a veterinarian in their building who knows quite a lot about “putting down” animals, their team is complete to grant Max his wish.  (The Australian angle is that the euthanasia machine constructed by Yehezkel is based on one popularised by Philip Nitschke, the Australian doctor who has long advocated the practice.)

The cast is wonderful, filled with many of the ageing greats of Israeli film and theatre.  There are also a number of wonderful and slyly funny scenes:  one character decides to come “out of the closet” as gay; the friends scheme to fool hospital staff monitoring by switching the equipment; and they farewell a lung cancer patient through a smoking party.

Ultimately, the film becomes quite serious: who are they, exactly, to play God in this way?  Facing these ethical and moral dilemmas, particularly once their “technique” is known and appears in demand, is a conundrum that the characters are not prepared for.  The topic is challenging, and – despite many great moments – the film-makers never quite achieve a balanced tone in “The Farewell Party”, varying between the darkness of “Amour” to the lightness of “Cocoon”.  The result is a good, although not great film.

The Farewell Party


Film review of Gett – The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

October 30, 2014

(This review of “Gett, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” appeared in a slightly different form in the Australian Jewish News on 23 October 2014.)

Directed and written by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz

Starring Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Menashe Noy, Sasson Gabay and Eli Gorstein

There are few more dramatic moments captured on film than courtroom interplay, seen in the best courtroom dramas such as “Twelve Angry Men”, “A Few Good Men” and “To Kill A Mockingbird”.  But despite the many thousands of Jewish films over the past 100 years, there has only been one great Jewish courtroom drama – “Judgment at Nuremberg”.

That was then.  Now there’s a second one, and it’s the opening night film in the Jewish Film Festival.  “Gett, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” is nothing but courtroom drama:  no exteriors, no back story and no historic replays.

At its simplest, “Gett” is Viviane’s (Ronit Elkabetz) attempt to get a Gett, the religious Jewish divorce, from her passive-aggressive husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian).  The action takes place over five years, with countless appearances by Viviane with her advocate Carmel Ben Tavin (Menashe Noy), a secular son of a noted rabbi.  Despite the long-term separation and the clear breakdown of their marriage – they seem temperamentally unsuited in all ways – Elisha steadfastly refuses the divorce, even when ordered to by the three rabbinic judges, and is even willing to suffer a short stay in jail.

The point of “Gett” is crystal clear:  women, at least in matters of marriage and divorce, are second-class citizens in Israel, and are effectively powerless.  Viviane rarely speaks in court, and is a virtual bystander in decisions on her own fate.  As Viviane, Ronit Elkabetz gives a breathtaking performance of controlled fury.  She also co-directed and co-directed the film with her brother Shlomi Elkabetz.  This is the third of their trilogy about the Amsalems with the same characters, following “To Take a Wife” and “The Seven Days”.  But “Gett” can be appreciated on its own.

Courtroom dramas are ostensibly about justice, but what drives the action and most engages the viewer is really character, specifically the clash of characters:  the judges, the witnesses, the lawyers and those on trial.  And this is where “Gett” shines: a tight script (in Hebrew, French and Arabic) gives these characters much to say and do.  Through the Amsalems and their advocates, relatives, friends and neighbours, we see a superb portrayal of Israeli society, one frequently infused with moments of black humour.   Brilliant in all ways.

Gett Trial of Viviane Amsalem


Amanda Barker appointed new consumer director on COSL – one of Australia’s two credit ombudsman services

October 30, 2014

I am pleased to note that my former colleague at ASIC – the Australian Securities and Investments Commission – has now been appointed a new consumer director at COSL, the Credit Ombudsman Service Limited, which is one of Australia’s two ASIC-approved credit ombudsman services.

I worked closely with Amanda for almost two and a half years in ASIC’s Community Outreach Program:  she was the team leader and I was the deputy team leader.  I know of nobody who is better able to take on this important role – especially given her long experience and commitment to financially vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians.

The official media release goes as follows, and can be found on both the COSL website and the Consumers’ Federation of Australia website.

*****

The Board of the Credit Ombudsman Service Limited (COSL) announced the appointment of Ms Amanda Barker as the new non-executive consumer director of the company, effective 22 October 2014.

Ms Barker is well known for her work with culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Indeed, she has been nominated for the Prime Minister’s Community Award and was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2012 which recognises outstanding service by employees of the Australian Government.

Ms Barker was the Senior Manager of the Community Outreach Program at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), where she was employed to engage more meaningfully with vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

Ms Barker’s experience ranges from individual casework to policy reform and educating consumers in relation to consumer credit. She has worked collaboratively with government departments that fund programs for these target groups and has provided guidance and advice about policy settings and service delivery.

Mr Mark Scanlon, COSL’s Chairman, congratulated Ms Barker on her appointment and noted: “Ms Barker is exceptionally well qualified for the appointment as COSL’s new Consumer Director given her experience working in consumer advocacy and consumer protection, particularly in relation to consumer credit.”

“Her acknowledged stakeholder engagement and management skills and reputation, dealing particularly with the vulnerable and disadvantaged, will contribute to the effectiveness of COSL’s work in this area. I look forward to working with Ms Barker in continuing to develop COSL as a leading external dispute resolution scheme,” Mr Scanlon said.

“Ms Barker replaces Ms Karen Cox who stood down from the Board on 27 August 2014. My Board, staff and I are indebted to her for her input into the development and continued growth of COSL,” continued Mr Scanlon.