’The 90 Minute War’.
THE 90 MINUTE WAR Hebrew title: Milhemet 90 Dakot Written and directed by Eyal Halfon With Norman Issa, Moshe Ivgy, Pepe Rapazote Running time: 83 minutes In Arabic, English and Hebrew A mockumentary about the Middle East peace process sounds like a great idea, and Eyal Halfon has just made one – The 90 Minute War. The premise is that the conflict will be solved through one soccer match between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The winner will take all the land, while the loser will have to leave immediately.
The audience I saw this movie with laughed heartily at every joke. While I sympathized with their achingly obvious desire to laugh rather than cry over the seemingly hopeless peace process, I didn’t share their enthusiasm.
Satirizing ongoing conflicts is a tricky business, and few have done it well. The greatest example that comes to mind is Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be, a 1942 film starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, which told the story of a troupe of actors in Nazi-occupied Poland who deceive the Germans and also make fun of them in the process. Some moments in To Be or Not to Be may give you a queasy feeling — while they were making it, they didn’t know the extent of the Holocaust — but there was an edge to this comedy that still works.
Dror Shaul managed to make a very funny film last year about the Israeli-Iranian nuclear rivalry, Atomic Falafel, and he proved that the contemporary Middle East conflict can be a fertile ground for broad comedy and black humor.
By contrast, The 90 Minute War is strangely toothless satire. It reminds me of the weaker moments of Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country), the comedy sketch TV show that will often mock politicians for their appearance or their voice, and not for their corruption, duplicity and incompetence.
The 90 Minute War is structured like a news documentary about the match, and there are some good moments that mock the often clueless seriousness of the news broadcasters. But the majority of the humor is obvious and superficial. It certainly won’t change anyone’s perspective on the conflict.
The participants agree that the match has to be held on neutral ground, and Portugal is chosen for the locale. A surprising portion of the movie is concerned with the stadium manager and the search for a Portuguese referee who can handle the task. These sections are meant to show the supposedly “normal” Europeans, whose lives (in the view of the filmmakers) are free of political conflict. The Portuguese actors and locations are pleasant enough, but all this is rather straightforward and flat.
The bulk of the film concerns the Israelis’ and the Palestinians’ preparations for the match, which — yes, you guessed it — turn into a microcosm of the entire conflict.
The two team managers, played by Moshe Ivgy for the Israelis and Norman Issa for the Palestinians, bicker over every detail, and their arguments are mediated by the haughty European soccer officials.
The Israelis hire a master coach (Detlev Buck) from Germany, and he is asked to comment on the irony of his being in charge of training for a match that will decide the future of the Jewish people. The Palestinian players have trouble getting around Israel so that they can practice, and there is an Israeli-Arab player caught in the middle, who has to decide which side he is on.
While I won’t give away the ending, to say that it is a cop-out and an anti-climax would be an understatement.
The performances are lively, with Ivgy and Issa throwing themselves into their roles. But seeing Ivgy for the first time since his sexual harassment scandal was a bit distracting. Had he been playing a dramatic role, it might have been easier to forget the scandal.
Much thought has gone into all the details in the film. Israelis and Palestinians alike decorate their neighborhoods with banners celebrating the match, Nachman hassidim dance ecstatically to cheer on the Israelis, etc.
But the acting and details don’t make up for the emptiness at the center of the film. Most of the jokes are mildly funny at best, tedious at worst. Perhaps this movie, which is basically an extended comedy sketch, would play better on the small screen.
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