Given Israel’s reputation as a formative leader in the areas of science, technology and agriculture, they have not exactly been a revolutionary force when it comes to film and television programming. However, over the last decade or so there has been a major shift in the area of entertainment with the advent of outstanding TV shows like Fauda, Hatufim, (Prisoner of War), and Bnei Aruba (Hostages). Innovative and original programming can now be added to Israel’s impressive list of accomplishments.
Thanks to platforms like Netflix and unlimited online access to Israeli media, fresh and compelling stories are just a click away. I finished binge watching the Television drama Shtisel several weeks ago, a series that chronicles the complex relationships and every day struggles of a Haredi family. It offers a brief but fascinating glimpse into a world to which the average person may not ordinarily have access, but to which almost everyone can surprisingly relate.
The latest Israeli offering that kept me up until the wee hours of the night is the brilliant and poignant drama, When Heroes Fly. The story line is original and the acting, superb. What makes this series extraordinary, in my opinion, is the varied and broad complexities of the four main characters that served together in an elite combat unit during the Second Lebanon War. In the heat of battle, they experienced traumatic events that altered their lives in very different and profound ways. It is the masterful way in which their struggles are depicted that makes the show so realistic and engrossing. A particularly memorable scene involves the first of many severe flashbacks that one of the characters experiences two years post service. It is a gripping scene that brilliantly draws the viewer into the character’s sense of panic, confusion and fear. In North America, we are accustomed to dramas that tackle the painful subject of war, and discharged soldiers are encouraged to speak openly about how their experiences have affected them emotionally and psychologically. Historically, this has not been the case in Israel. When a soldier is released from the IDF he or she is expected to look towards the future and to leave the past behind. Discussing one’s feelings is considered a sign of weakness and so unless someone is diagnosed with severe PTSD, and therefore unable to function on a daily basis, the suppression of emotions is commonplace among released IDF soldiers. It is for this reason that Israeli shows like When Heroes Fly is so ground breaking and important.
War, as a genre, has also made its way into Israeli Film. Movies with a focus on war and its aftermath are making their way into the mainstream via international film festivals like the acclaimed Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which is where I attended an exceptionally powerful film called The Dive (Hatzlila). It is a raw and beautifully executed film about three brothers who must put aside their differences in order to carry out their father’s last wishes. Drawing beautiful performances from his cast, Director and Writer Yona Rozenkier’s first feature film represents a deep dive into questions of loyalty to one’s family, country, masculinity and the lasting impact of war. Rozenkier writes specifically and on point about the latter in an article featured in The Arts Guild, “What happens when your brothers, whom you love more than anything are called to fight, while you, who suffers from post-traumatic stress from a previous war, are left behind, devoured by worries with only a bottle of cheap whiskey connected to your veins? You doubt the easiness your brothers are sent to war, but you do not know if you doubt the need for that war because you are afraid for doubting that need to begin with.”
The series When Heroes Fly and the film The Dive resonate with me on a very deep level because of the work that I do on behalf of released IDF combat soldiers at Peace of Mind Canada. POM is dedicated to facilitating emotional and psychological support for released IDF elite combat soldiers who have undergone difficult battle situations, so as I was introduced to the diverse casts of characters, I immediately felt a familiarity that is difficult to explain; it is as if I have met each one multiple times. Soldiers can face a number of challenges during and upon completion of their IDF service including feeling overwhelmed by the demands of civilian life after spending up to five years in a strict military framework, experiencing difficulties with concentration, sleep and memory and feelings of anger and other symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of PTSD. Not much attention is given to the thousands of men and women who are discharged from the army because they are functioning members of society who, by and large, move on with their lives. Those around them would never guess that they are shouldering the burdens of their past battle experiences. Television and Film allows the viewing public to obtain a moderate understanding about what some released soldiers carry with them after the battle, and the challenges that they often face by not having the opportunity to deal with their trauma. Perhaps by giving a voice to post service trauma through the mediums of TV and film, Israeli culture can continue to take a step towards shedding the macho bravado that had been reinforced for so many years and begin to open up their minds and their hearts to the healing process.
Peace of Mind Canada is holding an exclusive screening of The Dive in Toronto on May 5th, 2019.