You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Film Review: ‘The Farewell Party’

This superbly acted dramedy pits the ethics of assisted suicide against the right to die with dignity.

Ze’ev Revah, Levana Finkelshtein, Aliza Rozen, Ilan Dar, Rafael Tabor, Shmuel Wolf. (Hebrew dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3163304/

A group of friends at a Jerusalem retirement home construct a machine for self-euthanasia in order to help a terminally ill pal in “The Farewell Party,” a poignant, provocative dramedy from Israeli helmers Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit. Boasting a dream cast of septuagenarian talent, a finely honed visual sense and superbly ironic comic timing and dialogue, the pic pits the ethics of assisted suicide against the right to die with dignity. Theatrical returns in Israel should be, er, out of this world, while offshore, positive word of mouth should smooth the way for this compassionate handling of inherently depressing material.

The opening scene cleverly riffs on the underlying theme of who has the right to play God, as retired inventor Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revah) phones an ailing nonagenarian, and speaking through a device that infuses his voice with a celestial grandeur, claims to be the Almighty and tells her not to give up on life. It’s typical of the kindly Yehezkel, who, with his inveterate tinkering, tries to come up with new and original ways to improve the lives of his neighbors and his pretty, nurturing wife (Levana Finkelshtein), who is starting to show early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

At the moment, however, the plight of their dear friends Yana (Aliza Rozen) and Max (Shmuel Wolf) is more distressing to the couple than Levana’s diagnosis, which they keep secret. The terminally ill Max is in the hospital and obviously suffering. Indeed, Max begs Yehezkel to put him out of his misery.

Popular on Variety

This initial setup offers plenty of opportunity for black situational comedy as Yana and Yehezkel join forces with retired veterinarian Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar), a would-be member of the Hemlock Society, who will provide the tranquilizers, and graft-loving former police detective Raffi Segal (Rafael Tabor), who will clean up the evidence. Yehezkel’s contribution is a Rube Goldberg-like contraption that will allow Max to off himself by pressing a button. Levana is horrified and calls them all murderers.

But after Max passes, rumors about the machine leak out and the friends find themselves besieged by requests from those looking for a way to end the suffering of their loved ones. While corrupt cop Segal sees opportunities in the euthanasia business, the others are more bound up with the moral dilemmas. In the meantime, as Levana’s condition becomes worse, she begins to feel that she may have misjudged her husband and her friends.

While the co-helming/writing team of Maymon and Granit may be working in a style and genre very different from Michael Haneke’s “Amour” or Runar Runarsson’s “Volcano,” the central dilemma of how to cope with a loved one’s suffering is similar. Although breaking up the emotional drama with comic and absurd elements makes the difficult issue more accessible to the audience, it remains to be seen whether “The Farewell Party” will draw the niche crowd attracted to “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” or their younger kin.

With its humanity and heart, the story could be set anywhere, and, like Maymon’s previous feature, “A Matter of Size,” is ripe for remake. But the snappy dialogue captures the irony and unique cadences of Jewish humor with lines such as “They’re keeping him alive as though dying was a crime,” and “I’m willing to kill for you and you say I don’t love you enough.”

Although the helmers occasionally dabble in obvious visual humor, such as showing a closeted gay man actually in a closet, there are many other inspired moments. Among the best: a clever trick to fool hospital monitors, a room full of cigarette smokers remembering a friend that died of lung cancer, and multiple scenes with a young cop unable to give the group a well-deserved traffic ticket. Perhaps the most unique and moving scene is a surreal musical number that provides a note of grace as the living and the dead sing of their longing for a better place.

The appealing cast consists of icons of Israeli comedy who have also been mainstays of film, theater and TV for many decades; they all dig into their dramatic and literally flesh-baring roles with gusto. The attractive tech package makes fine use of the special light and muted colors of Jerusalem as it contrasts the comfortable environment of the retirement home with the cold, clinical space of the hospital. And speaking of the dear and departed, the pic reps one of the final credits of the late, lamented German producer Karl Baumgartner.

Venice Film Review: ‘The Farewell Party’

Reviewed online, Chicago, Aug. 29, 2014. (In Venice Film Festival Venice Days; Toronto Film Festival Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 90 MIN. (Original title: "Mita tova")

Production: (Israel-Germany) A United King (in Israel) release of a Pie Films, 2Team production, in co-production with Pallas Film, Twenty Twenty Vision, United King Films, with the support of the Israel Film Fund, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, Reshet, Yes Satellite Television, MDM. (International sales: Beta Cinema, Munich.) Produced by Haim Mecklberg, Estee Yacov-Mecklberg, Talia Kleinhendler, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Thanassis Karathanos, Karl Baumgartner, Mosche Edery, Leon Edery, Sharon Maymon, Tal Granit.

Crew: Directed, written by Sharon Maymon, Tal Granit. Camera (color, HD), Tobias Hochstein; editor, Einat Glaser Zarhin; music, Avi Belleli; production designer, Arad Sawat; costume designer, Laura Sheim; sound, Aviv Aldema, Stephan von Hase; casting, Michal Koren.

With: Ze’ev Revah, Levana Finkelshtein, Aliza Rozen, Ilan Dar, Rafael Tabor, Shmuel Wolf. (Hebrew dialogue)

More Film

  • Julia Fox Uncut Gems

    Saoirse Ronan, Julia Fox and More Actors Discuss the Women Who Inspired Them

    In her first film role, Julia Fox blazes into “Uncut Gems” as Julia, the ambitious but loyal mistress of Adam Sandler’s jeweler. It’s a complex character the audience can’t always read. To play Julia, Fox says she had a couple inspirations. “My younger self, for sure,” she admits. “Looking at myself retrospectively, how I survived, [...]

  • Disney's MULAN..Mulan (Yifei Liu)..Photo: Film Frame..©

    Mulan Goes to War in Disney‘s Action-Packed Trailer

    Hua Mulan readies to put her life on the line for her community and family in a new trailer for Disney’s live-action “Mulan.” Based on Disney’s 1998 animated classic, “Mulan” tells the story of a woman (portrayed by Yifei Liu) who poses as a man to fight in the Chinese army. The footage, dropped Thursday, [...]

  • My Grandfather's Demons

    Marmita Films Boards Portuguese Feature ‘My Grandfather’s Demons’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    France’s Marmita Films has joined Sardinha em Lata, Caretos Film and Basque Films as a co-producer on the upcoming Portuguese 2D-stop motion hybrid feature “My Grandfather’s Demons.” Having impressed as a project at Seville’s 3D Wire – now Weird Market – where it won the La Liga Feature Project Award, Nuno Beato’s “My Grandfather’s Demons” [...]

  • And Then We Danced Swedish Georgia

    Western Europe Looks for Oscar Glory

    With wins for Mexico, Chile and Iran in the past three years — and South Korea dominating conversation in the international film Oscar race this year — the Academy has been taking some time off from its usual Europhilia in the category. This year, however, a number of standout contenders look to ensure the Continent [...]

  • fotos filmowy Misz Masz - Kogel

    Why Some European Blockbusters Won't Hit U.S. Screens

    It’s become a Bavarian rite of summer. With Germany and the rest of continental Europe swooning through the dog days of August, local audiences flock to the cinema to catch the latest capers of detective Franz Eberhofer, the star of a crime comedy franchise based on a series of best-selling novels. As temperature soar, so [...]

  • Pain and Glory Penelope Cruz

    Oscar's International Film Race Hits Road Bumps

    “I grew up watching foreign-language films,” director Alfonso Cuarón quipped after his “Roma” won the Oscar for foreign-language film last year. “Learning so much from them and being inspired. Films like ‘Citizen Kane,’ ‘Jaws,’ ‘Rashomon,’ ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Breathless.’” For foreign-language committee co-chairs Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, who had taken over the position that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content