Asia Naifeld’s brilliant performance as Anna, a military police investigator, dominates the film Room 514, a tense and ambitious drama about the investigation into a complaint of IDF brutality against a Palestinian family. The film raises questions that many Israelis would prefer not to think about.
This is actually the epitome of the kind of film some think should not be shown abroad because in their mind, it gives Israel a bad name. I think that attitude is a mistake.
Many in the audience abroad will come away with more respect for Israel when they realize how seriously Israelis grapple with issues here, and it will give them a new understanding of how complicated the situation actually is.
What audiences abroad may or may not think isn’t the point, though. The fact is that this is a well made film about an extremely difficult subject.
Shot with a semi-documentary look, the film follows an investigation that Anna undertakes just before completing her military service. She has a complaint from a Palestinian family concerning abuse by soldiers in an elite unit. So she sets out to investigate thoroughly, even though her commanding officer, Erez (Ohad Hall) warns her off, saying it is too politically sensitive. But Anna, who is dogged and literal-minded in a way that recalls the lead character in Juzo Itami’s film A Taxing Woman
(in which an investigator for Japan’s internal revenue service targets Mafia tax cheats), won’t give up.
The daughter of Russian immigrants, she interrupts her interrogations to take calls from her mother, who doesn’t speak Hebrew and needs help with household matters. But she is more than just a conscientious investigator and devoted daughter. She is also having an extraordinarily self defeating affair with Erez, who is engaged to a woman from a well connected family. Some of the best scenes in the movie involve the delicate and complicated personal and professional connection between the two of them. She tries to pretend she doesn’t care about him and doesn’t want him to break up with his fiancée and be with her.
He behaves at times as if he were torn between the two women, when it’s clear that he is a selfinterested careerist and will never take Anna seriously. And all this personal baggage can never truly be put completely aside when they are dealing with army matters.
Nimrod (Guy Kapulnik), the first officer she interrogates, is conflicted about his role in the violence, while Davidi (Udi Persi), Nimrod’s commander, claims to have no such qualms. He is the most intriguing character of the film: He admits to his actions but says he was put in a situation where he had no choice but to be tough, and sometimes brutal, to safeguard the lives of his men and civilians.
As I watched the film, I was struck by how young all the characters are.
They are grappling with the most serious issues imaginable, and are all in their early 20s. Sometimes they sound like earnest high school debaters, and I’m not sure how much of this kind of talk takes place in IDF investigation rooms. But it is true that these characters are just a few years out of high school, and that’s quite sobering.
The entire cast is outstanding.
Ohad Hall is completely convincing as the sleazy Erez, although you can see the charm he has for Anna. Guy Kapulnik and Udi Persi do such strong work, you might think they were soldiers pulled off duty for a few hours to work on this. But it’s Asia Naifeld who holds it all together, and she plays an incredibly complex role beautifully. She’s alternately tough and sensual, and you sense how certain she is about her job and how confused she is about herself.
This is the feature film debut of director Sharon Bar-Ziv, who has written screenplays in the past. He manages to turn political debate into real drama, a task at which so many have failed. It’s not a film for everyone, but it’s very compelling.
If it’s difficult, that’s because it reflects the more sobering aspects of life here.Room 514
Hebrew title: Heder 514
Written and directed by Sharon Bar-Ziv.
With Asia Naifeld, Ohad Hall, Guy Kapulnik, Udi Persi
Running time: 88 minutes In Hebrew and Russian, with English subtitles