Flipping Out

After finishing their compulsory military service, tens of thousands of young Israelis head for India to unwind, get stoned or, in some cases, go insane.

After finishing their compulsory military service, tens of thousands of young Israelis head for India to unwind, get stoned or, in some cases, go insane — all of which are explored in “Flipping Out.” Latest docu by notable Israeli helmer Yoav Shamir proves a minor disappointment after his stunning breakthrough “Checkpoint” and its fast-paced follow-up “5 Days,” although there’s still good stuff to savor here. A few fests should flip for this, but pic will play best on the box.

Given that “Checkpoint” observed Israeli soldiers manning Palestinian-Israeli borders, and “5 Days” watched other soldiers forcibly evacuating settlers from the Gaza Strip, “Flipping Out” reps a sequel of sorts to both films by showing what these young people do after they’ve survived the stress and danger of active service.

Per explanatory onscreen subtitles, many former soldiers take their discharge bonus and head to India, where 90% will take drugs and a good 2,000 will end up needing professional help after having suffering drug-induced mental breakdowns, or “flipping out.”

Docu unfolds first around Himalayan townships and then the beaches of Goa in the south, where numerous guest houses cater exclusively to Israelis. In many, ex-soldiers, male and a few female, smoke bongs and joints incessantly. When prodded, some recount the disturbing experiences in the army they’re trying to forget.

Having lived through such stresses, it’s no wonder that some, like victim Ran Shamir, end up freaking out under the influence of drugs. He’s finally led home by professional tracker Hilik Magnus, whom Israeli families hire to find their wayward kids.

Ran Shamir shows up in the second half, two years having elapsed, now clean, sober and Orthodox. Revisiting his old haunts, he meets a bluff Brit tourist who contributes one of the pic’s rare moments of comedy, as does an itinerant musician who won’t stop playing his blaring wind instrument during a tense scene involving Magnus.

With no war zone onscreen this time, it’s not surprising that “Flipping Out” lacks the urgency and high tension of the helmer’s previous efforts. Unfortunately, pic doesn’t compensate by offering richer dramatic meat or particularly useful psychological insight. Too many storylines tend to dilute the strongest strands, while pic misses a trick by scrimping on viewpoints of local Indians.

Lensing by Yoav Shamir himself is competent, but transfer to 35mm looks blurry and curiously drab given the story’s colorful setting. Abundant use of onscreen textual information contributes to pic’s general made-for-TV look.

Flipping Out

(Docu – Israel)

  • Production: A Topia Communications, Cinephil production (Israel), in association with the National Film Board of Canada, ITVS Intl., with the support of the New Israeli Foundation for Cinema and Television, David Fisher, ZDF/ARTE, Sundance Channel, BBC, SBS Australia, VPRO Netherlands, DR TV Denmark, Documentary Channel Canada, Keshet Broadcasting. (International sales: Cinephil, Tel Aviv.) Produced by Michael Sharfshtein, Moshe and Leon Edery, Philippa Kowarsky, Kent Martin. Directed, written by Yoav Shamir.
  • Crew: Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Shamir; editor, Era Lapid; music, Ophir Leibovitch; sound (Dolby), Sandrine Beeri Haim Meir. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 12, 2008. Running time: 84 MIN.
  • Cast: <b>With:</b> Hilik Magnus, Or Pines, Eyal Goldstein, Ran Shamir, Eli Ishay. (Hebrew, English dialogue)
  • Music By: