At the end of The Six Day War of 1967 in Israel, two soldiers, an Egyptian and an Israeli, encounter each other in the Sinai desert. The two share the goal of survival. During the 67 war, Israel repelled a concerted effort of its Arab neighbors to drive it into the sea. The country was about to be torn apart by artillery, air power and troops and it was an ambush. This time, however, the underdog served the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan with defeat. In just 6 days, the warring enemies were brought to their knees.
The movie was directed by Mike Burstyn, the son of Yiddish actors, who got his start in Yiddish theater . He and I did our basic training for the Israel Defense Forces together. This is the first film he has directed and he has something to be really proud of. “Azimuth” exposes conflict and salvation as it communicates itself between two soldiers: an Israeli and an Egyptian who are–deadlocked in an abandoned desert UN outpost, during the ceasefire that ended the war. The very strong metaphor we have here is that we can survive if we cooperate, or we are going to die in the desert.”
Burstyn uses a question of relativity as his subtext that has us empathize with he characters. We care for both characters, because in their isolation it’s difficult to remember who they are fighting and what for. They are simply two men who fight for all of us.
The 6-Day War did not just change the Middle East, it changed the world by making us believe in hope. With the war’s end in the middle of the desert, in an abandoned outpost of the United Nations, two soldiers cross each other. The Egyptian is hurt and lost. The Israel is looking for his mates in a jeep and stops at the place to refuel the car and escape for awhile from the scorching heat. The war is over, but for these two men the confrontation is inevitable. And they end up being each other’s prisoner.
It is not a matter of opposing a Jew to an Arab, but of observing the behavior of two men in the face of a situation of mutual fear and struggle for survival. There is no religious or ethnic hatred, but only an inescapable boundary imposed by the different military uniforms they wear. We have no temptation to justify or legitimize the conflict between Jews and Arabs, to victimize or demonize one of the sides. What matters is the brutality of war, seen from the point of view of two individuals who have nothing against each other but mutual fear, external to themselves, because both were mobilized to fight on opposite sides.
Of course we have the irony that the war is over and the struggle to survive is a crude look at the logic of conflict.. It is surprising that, with a story that has just two characters, that the movie can move forward as rapidly as it does. The performances of Israeli Yiftach Klein and the Egyptian Sammy Sheik are outstanding and the film is visually beautiful to watch.
The conflict that frames “Azimuth” is still going on and this prevents the story from being a fable or morality tale. Yes, the message of the movie is not new yet as we watch we are kept guessing as to how it will be presented.