“The Farewell Party” (“Mita Tova”)
Knowing When to Say Goodbye
“The Farewell Party” is a dark comedy about compassion, friendship and knowing when to say goodbye. Set at a retirement home in Jerusalem, we meet a group of friends who build a machine for self-euthanasia in order to help their terminally ill friend. When rumors of the machine begin to spread, more and more people ask for their help, and the friends are faced with an emotional dilemma.
Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach) and his wife Levana (Levana Finklestein) are in their 70s, and live a comfortable life inside a Jerusalem retirement home. But when their friend Max falls prey to an irreversible illness, they face a terrible shock. Max asks Yehezkel to help him die with dignity, Yehezkel, a longtime amateur inventor, rises to the challenge by constructing a machine that will allow Max to self-administer a lethal dose of tranquilizers. However, Levana believes that such a device is immoral, and expresses her passionate disapproval. But when Levana herself begins to face a serious health issue, Yehezkel finds that his feelings about his new contraption become increasingly complicated.
In our contemporary culture, death is something of a taboo. We certainly shy away from talking about it so it is hard to imagine anyone wanting to see a movie about the end of life. Yet “The Farewell Party” is a very good movie with something to say.
We look at death here from a different point of view. We are in a nursing home where some but old people face a fading existence. We face the question of who benefits from prolonging the suffering of a terminally ill patient who only asks that somebody would please pull the plug on him? Why deny to him a compassionate gesture that is conversely so easily granted to an animal?
Israeli culture is very aware of how simple it was, in a time so still painfully close, to slip from a gentle death that is afforded to the terminally ill and go to the forced euthanasia imposed on the mentally ill as it was in Nazi Germany.
Directors Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit maintain a safe distance from these cultural considerations. Likewise they do not look at religious issues involved but if they had the topic probably would have been a good deal easier to deal with. Instead, they tell a quick story that is constructed around a group of characters. An interesting aspect of the film is that it is centered on an “eternal carousel” that is moving and caught between the need for moral imperatives and free will and this is no easy task.
Here is the basic storyline—- a group of friends at a Jerusalem nursing home try to put an end to the suffering of a friend who is terminally ill. One of them builds a machine that can deliver a painless death. The machine is totally automatic and the patient himself can start it when he is ready to do so by just pushing one button and in doing he releases the others of the responsibility of causing death.
Soon rumors about this machine start spreading among the other nursing home residents and it did not take long before other terminally ill residents begin to request access to the machine. The story does not resolve the existential dilemma by searching for an abstract thesis, but rather it lets it form in each single frame. The directors provide a series of stories around the ethical question, and each story is capable of taking charge of a moral direction, each represents an individual destiny. Ione of those stories happens to be of a little old lady including the story of the little old lady who never accepts death and advocates for life at all costs.
We see one character whose fate is loose whatever memory she has of herself to Alzheimer’s. She watches recordings that include the final and last statements just before they push the button in order to end their lives. We see a cinematic picture that defies the passing of time, and the slow fading away of the individual conscience. Herein is the expression of a question that invests the very sense of the function of the audio-visual medium in contemporary society. There is no argument that the questions and themes here are high drama yet, the film is paced in the spirit of comedy. It goes beyond black comedy and re-establishes the dominant status-quo cultural values.
There are two ways, at least, to think about the film. Some will see it as blasphemous and maintain that only God has the right and to power to create and to take away life. We can also see it as a courageous attempt to change the way stories are told. As a film, it strongly asserts only real life can assert poetry that can have us laugh or cry with no contradiction.
It’s a film that firmly asserts the conviction that poetry can only be where we can find the real Life that makes us laugh and cry at the same time, without there being any contradiction. An interesting note about this film is that the majority of the cast is made up of former stars of Israeli movies who are now at the age of the residents in the Jerusalem retirement home. Aside from those already mentioned we see Aliza Rosen and Ilan Dar.