The right to die

A ‘Farewell Party’ you may not enjoy.

The farewell party movie (photo credit: PR)
The farewell party movie
(photo credit: PR)
Directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, The Farewell Party is intended as a feel-good black comedy about euthanasia and the right to die with dignity. The frequent jokes, performed by a who’s who of Israel’s most revered veteran actors – Ze’ev Revach (who won the Ophir Award for Best Actor for his performance last month), Aliza Rosen, Levana Finkelstein and Ilan Dar, among others – are often funny, but they are breaks from the main theme of the movie, the right to die.
The Farewell Party, which won the Audience Award at the Venice Days section of the Venice International Film Festival this year, is a heartfelt plea against forcing terminally ill patients to suffer horrific pain rather than allow them a merciful death.
Anyone who has spent time around a friend or family member undergoing a prolonged, agonizing death courtesy of modern medicine will appreciate and applaud this plea. However, it’s hard to avoid a preachy tone when debating this problem, and The Farewell Party suffers from that. The script tries to turn the issue – which, for most people, couldn’t be clearer: of course the terminally ill should not be forced to suffer unimaginable pain – into a debate among its elderly characters.
One character that is most against the idea of a planned, merciful death at the beginning ends up embracing the idea and using the machine herself that Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach), a tinkerer and inventor, creates.
Maybe I have seen too many movies on this issue – and there have been many – but I saw this coming in the first 10 minutes.
While the debates are well written, there is nothing surprising here. And the movie cannot truly resolve the hard questions it raises. Of course the terminally ill deserve a merciful death, but what about elderly people facing a gradual descent into dementia? At what point is life no longer worth living? Doctors, clergy and philosophers stumble when it comes to the issue of taking the lives of those who are no longer at their best because this argument is a slippery slope, one that leads to the idea that there is no place for anyone who is not completely “normal” in society. For the movie the answers are clear, but audiences may get a queasy feeling at some moments, and with good reason.
The movie focuses on a few characters in what is one of the most idyllic assisted living communities ever shown on film.
Yehezkel’s terminally ill friend needs help checking out and Yana (Aliza Rosen), the wife of this ill friend, is grateful for his help. Yehezkel enlists the aid of Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar), a retired veterinarian, and his male lover, Rafi (Rafi Tavor) – the fact that these two gay men are still in the closet yields a lot of jokes.
Yehezkel’s wife, Levana (Levana Finkelstein), suffers from mild dementia but manages to get by most of the time with a little help from her husband and friends.
Although we are supposed to feel sorry for the characters and their plight, I couldn’t help admiring the extremely wellappointed assisted living community where the action takes place. This may be the first assisted living real estate porn ever put on film, and it was hard not to think of the vast majority of elderly people who can’t afford such luxurious conditions.
There is even a heated pool where grandparents get to take their grandchildren swimming, a gorgeous greenhouse where a jokey nude scene takes place and many other amenities. The staff seems friendly and kind. Many older people would consider a home like this paradise.
The performances are all wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Finkelstein’s delicate strength and beauty in the midst of trying circumstances. Tobias Hochstein won an Ophir Award for the meticulous cinematography.
For some, the sight of Israel’s most beloved actors playing meaty parts will be enough reason to see this movie, but others will be troubled by the too pat approach to life-anddeath issues.
Hebrew title: Mita Tova
Written and directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon With Ze’ev Revach, Aliza Rosen, Levana Finkelstein, Ilan Dar
Running time: 95 minutes
In Hebrew. Check with theaters for subtitle information.