As part of the Contemporary World Cinema program at TIFF comes the Israeli film Red Fields, directed by Keren Yedaya. This movie is based on the Israeli rock opera Mami, which deals with political topics such as the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Mami (Neta Elkayam) was born in southern Israel and works at a gas station. She marries a soldier named Nissim (Ami Abu), who later becomes paralyzed, leaving him unable to walk, talk, or move. Unsure of what to do, Mami takes Nissim in his wheelchair to Tel Aviv. The movie takes a bizarre turn in Tel Aviv as intense and vivid events unfold including an attempted rape, professors experimenting on Mami’s brain, Mami’s campaign for Prime Minister of Israel, and the worst war the Middle East has ever seen.
This movie is a musical and like any other movie musical, the characters sing through the more emotional scenes, like the one in the hospital after Nissim’s injury, and in this case, the strange scenes, like the brain experiments. Because this film is in Hebrew and was screened with English subtitles, it’s unclear how well the songs translated into English, but it was enough for the audience to know what was going on and what the character was feeling. The other thing that helps is that there are scenes with a band and the singer who serve as the narrator. In these scenes, the narrator tells us what has happened offscreen through song, which is different than many Hollywood movie musicals, but it worked.
Continuing on with the music and sound, there is score playing for nearly the entire movie. The low ranges of the cello, violin, and clarinet really underscore the darker tones and themes of the movie. While this was a little overbearing and maybe too loud at times, the constant music mostly worked because there were few straightforward dialogue scenes in the film. It was either all silent, physical acting, or musical numbers, so the score prevented the film from ever being completely silent.
Tonally, it was like watching two different styles of movies—the first half was pretty realistic, but then Yedaya flips the movie upside down and radically changes style to one of psychedelia and surrealism once the characters get to Tel Aviv. However, what ties the movie together and what runs through both parts is the conflict between Israel and Palestine and the characters’ desires to demilitarize Israel. Overall, this movie is a fresh take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a topic on which many movies have been made.