Policeman: the "enemy" within
by Vitor Pinto
11/07/2012 - After its success at several international film festivals including Locarno, Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, and San Francisco, Policeman was recently screened at the 18th Sarajevo Film Festival in its Operation Kino section. The film marks Israeli screenwriter and director Nadav Lapid's move to feature films, and caused great controversy last year in his home country.
Policeman has managed to achieve what many other politically-committed Israeli productions have so far failed to do. It discusses identity and Israel's contradictions, but without directly addressing the sensitive topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Beyond the unavoidable looming shadow of the "Arab enemy", in Policeman Lapid plays on his viewers expectations and fears to surprise them not with a story that pitches Jews against Palestinians, but with one that pitches Israelis against Israelis or, more exactly, representatives of state law against young radicals.
As if it were two films in one, Policeman is divided into two parts whose main characters (and their adversaries) only meet at the end. In the first part, we meet Yaron, the policeman referred to in the title. Yaron is about to be a father. He lives torn between the tenderness he shows his pregnant wife, the manly comradeship he shares with his friends, and the violence of his job at the anti-terrorist unit. Lapid offers his audience both a reflection on manhood in a country were being a man automatically means being a soldier, and a dive into a world of corrupt cops in which the state's supreme interests must be respected at all costs. Yaron was taught to carry out his mission at the heart of this state and he has never questioned it... at least until now.
The second part, which starts with a group of punks destroying a car in the streets of Tel Aviv, focuses on a group of young students who decide to call for social change through a terrorist act. Revolution, we already know, is a bourgeois invention, and these students know it too. In the posh flat of one of them, they organise to kidnap one of the country's richest men as a way to draw attention to social inequality. Although the revolutionary group is led by a man, the story focuses on its only female member. Her argument with another girl (the kidnapped businessman's daughter who is then also kidnapped on the day of her wedding) gives rise to some of the film's best lines: "You don't have a head, you have a hairstyle. You don't have a body, you have a dress." -- "They will come and save me, you will go to jail and wish that you were me."
These are two stories from two very different worlds whose methods are both wrong and who are both helpless when faced with opportunity for change. Via their respective main characters, these worlds literally come head-to-head in the end, as if in an unavoidable explosion after almost two hours of Lapid capturing a society's latent tension and contradictions with both talent and insight. I don't know if cinema can change the world, or if it only imitates real life, but Policeman is one of those disturbing films that dares to ask important uncomfortable questions about a world in which fear and ignorance have become the main allies of an often tragic and unfair status quo.
(Translated from Spanish)