It is a rite of passage for some senior Israeli high school students. In brief trips to Poland designed to heighten their awareness of the Holocaust, they visit museums, open and closed synagogues, and former Nazi concentration camps.
Asaf Saban’s The Delegation focuses on a group of Israeli teenagers who participate on such a trip. His never less than interesting feature film will be presented at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival on June 10.
As the first scene unfolds, exuberant young men and women, holding aloft Israeli flags, disembark from a plane in Warsaw on a winter day. They tour a Holocaust museum, and the experience brings tears to one of the visitors.
Saban concentrates on the dynamics of the relationships between the participants rather than on the meaning of their visit.
Frisch (Yoav Bavly), shy, reserved and somewhat of a loner, is accompanied by his grandfather, Yosef (Ezra Dagan), a Polish Holocaust survivor. It is not clear why Yosef is on the trip, but he’s a fine companion, an avid storyteller, and popular with his grandson’s peers.
Yosef’s stories are about his adolescence in Poland and the terror he witnessed and experienced during the Holocaust. The teens pay close attention to his tales, realizing they are authentic representations of a certain time and place.
Ido (Leib Levin), mostly sarcastic, arrogant and unpleasant, has a dim view of Frisch, possibly because he’s his rival in romance. They both like Nitz (Neomi Harari), who’s temperamental, somewhat remote and unpredictable. Frisch is particularly miffed and jealous when Ido, with Nitz at his side, asks him to leave their bedroom. Sex is obviously on Ido’s mind.
In Kazimierz, the old Jewish district of Krakow, they visit a historic synagogue. Oddly enough, their guide instructs them to remove all Israeli and Jewish markings from their clothes. Why he asks them to do this remains unexplained. No where else in Poland are they asked to conceal their nationality and religion.
During the tour, Nitz goes off on her own and enters a shoe store, where she commits a petty crime.
Following a visit to Treblinka, a former extermination camp which has been converted into a bleak memorial, the participants vent their feelings. One of the girls screams and leaves the room. Another one speaks about its impact on her.
After visiting Majdanek, which is given short shrift, they head toward Auschwitz-Birkenau. En route to the the former concentration camp in southern Poland, Frisch breaks way from the group and hitches a ride with an elderly Polish truck driver.
The driver likes Frisch and invites him to his house for a home cooked meal. He elicits a smile from Frisch when he shows him a Polish-language version of an Israeli comic book. The driver takes Frisch to a nearby town, where he is greeted by the mayor and given a tour of a nineteenth century synagogue. Oddly enough, the Poles ask him to sing a song in Hebrew.
In Auschwitz, Frisch suddenly attacks Ido, who’s mystified by his aggressive behavior.
Later, as the teens reflect on Auschwitz and their impressions of Poland, a substantive element of The Delegation kicks in. Gilad now understands the importance of Jewish nationhood in Israel, while Boaz knows why he wants to join a combat unit in the army.
Toward the close of the movie, Frisch, Ido and Nitz go to a local disco. As Ido watches from afar, Nitz makes out with a Polish man of her age and Frisch initiates a conversation with an empathetic young Polish woman that grows more personal and intimate by the minute.
The Delegation offers no profound observations about the Holocaust and its connection to Israel. But it gamely grapples with this complex theme, and its talented ensemble of actors turn in mature and naturalistic performances.