“Hatufim”(“Prisoners of War”)
The Inspiration for “Homeland”
After 17 years in captivity, Israeli soldiers Nimrode Klein and Uri Zach return home to the country that made them national icons. They work to overcome the trauma of torture and captivity while settling back into their interrupted family lives. Both are bothered heavily by the fact that the third member of the trio who were captured, Amiel Ben Horin did not come home with them. However, what many think is his corpse did return. Meanwhile, the military psychiatrist assigned to them finds discrepancies in the soldiers’ testimonies, and launches an investigation to discover what they are hiding.
This is the acclaimed Israeli drama series that was the inspiration for the American series, “Homeland” and we can now see all of the episodes of episodes the first and second season on seven DVDs that including behind the scenes interviews and scenes that were edited down. Writer/director Gideon Raff and cast conclude more than two months of intense photographs all over the country.
“Prisoners of War” is really a drama more than a thriller. It is about the trials and tribulations of family, friends and the prisoners themselves. The main theme throughout is guilt— every character has done something, to a more or lesser degree, wrong. Some try to make amends but for others amends are an impossibility. A lot of the characters have something to hide but, as they struggle under the strain, they only end up making things worse for themselves and those around them. There is tension from the very beginning and I found that just as I thought I knew what was coming, I really did not.
The two POWs that come home are shocked by the changes they encounter off the plane, with the feeling being mutual from their respective loved ones. Nimrode, runs headlong back into everyday life, trying to ignore his troubles from the past seventeen years as a captive. He, his wife and children must play happy families, despite the fact his teenage son hasn’t met him before. Amiel’s, the prisoner who didn’t make it, sister Yael, must struggle with the fact the brother she thought was alive is now dead, and can only seem to do this by seeing visions of him around the house. Uri’s wife didn’t wait around like Nimrode’s. She married his brother and had a son.
However, it is not all gloomy. There is humor found in the series that helps the series from becoming too dark and depressing. The situations are made all the more human for it and I was drawn into the situations with a lot more emotion than if everything just kept getting worse and everyone remained sad and unable to deal with the new realities that they found.
A basic set entraps two or more people as they must talk through their differences. All the characters have friction with each other and the realism plays out through the revealing of motives and the reasons behind their decisions. The actors are all good and there are no show off performances. Everyone does their best in developing their characters; meaning already good writing is helped along.
Each character is at times unlikeable. It is through flashbacks and back stories that we understand why they do what they do. Mostly everyone has three dimensions, no character is more important than another. There isn’t the traditional protagonist-antagonist relationship besides the occasional interjection from Haim Cohen, the psychiatrist interviewing the soldiers, who in his quest to find the truth behind the suspicious prisoners’ behavior, is perhaps the only character we do not totally understand until later.
Because of this focus on characters and relationships, the series moves at a slow pace. Tension builds, both in Cohen’s pursuit and the prisoner’s struggle with everyday life. The way the characters are balanced against each other is one of the finest aspects of the series. It flows from one character to another, even if they have no relation to each other. We want to find out what happens to everyone. What will happen with Uri and his ex-wife? Will Nimrode be able to survive trying to live out his pre-war dreams? Will Amiel’s dogs get walked each and everyday?
There are some aspects to the plot that we see coming and this, for me, is the only minus of the series. Some elements are a mystery, though. We’re introduced to Ilan who helps the prisoners get back on their feet. But his concentration falls fully on Yael after a few episodes. We’re supposed to see him as selfless and commendable, but really he’s too busy getting busy with Yael to help out the guys who have been prisoners of war for the past seventeen years and the character who’s supposed to be most sympathetic is, actually, the least sympathetic of all.
The scenes that jump back to the imprisonment of the three soldiers work well and are realistic enough (These flashbacks are gradually extended, slowly revealing important plot points or character motivations and it is constantly a fresh approach to telling the story. We all get turned around at the end and realize that the series is more about real emotion and situations than chases and stark reveals. The tension that’s most built up is a psychological one within the prisoners. The slow pace benefits the series that it takes its time and slowly shows the audience every intricacy of a character as opposed to going too quickly at first and leaving nothing for the ending.
The family and friends’ relationships and responses feel as real as the torture scenes. The series is a gripping, moving character based drama, examining a situation that most of us cannot begin to imagine the reality of, yet it somehow manages to be relatable. What this series has “Homeland” does not is heart.
While ‘Hatufim’ is definitely worth being judged on its own merits, it probably will, for some time, always be compared to the US series that was based on this Israeli original but ‘Hatufim’ doesn’t have to shy away from the comparison. In fact, I think it is the superior show of the two. Whereas ‘Homeland’ is clearly in the same vein as other US shows and boosts a fast pace, twists and turns and lots of action, ‘Hatufim’ is much more of a psychological thriller. On the surface much less happens than does in ‘Homeland’, but ‘Hatufim’ involves a lot more subtleties as well as realism and character study.
One petty note—because I am fluent in Hebrew I found, several times that the subtitles were not true translations and they often bothered me. This was also the first time that I have seen the name “Nimrode” spelled with a final “e” which makes it rhyme with toad when in reality it rhymes with sod. But that is minor and a personal quibble.