So this is the Israeli original upon which Homeland is based. It is really really good.
Please note that there is some pretty horrific violent flashback scenes in Hatifum.
So i liked Hatifum or Prisoners of War in English. It was quiet and slow moving and all set in beautiful light. Like it was sunny all the time. Which it probably is. For some reason i can’t imagine it raining in Israel.
Really enjoying Prisoners of War or Hatifum. It is blessedly quiet. No mood music thank God. Not that i’ve noticed.
People don’t even speak in it that much. Yet you don’t even notice. Whole scenes go by where we’re just watching one of Prisoner of war’s wives, Dana, for ex. sorting out and bagging up clothes, getting a quiche out of the oven, have a brief chat with her son, Hatznav about her campaigning efforts. Then she gathers up all her papers:one of which included a letter from the American secretary of state.
Then Dana takes the papers out and puts them on top of the bin in her walled courtyard with tropical plants. She stares out of the window at the bin and you see the quiche she took out of the oven . Presumably they have it cold.
Likewise you see the wife who married her prisoner of war husband’s brother go jauntily into town. Managing to look like a heroine in an Italian film with her huge bug-eyed sunglasses on an curly tendrilled blonde bob.
Silently, we watch from a distance from the other side of the glass pane of the shop as she goes in and asks for a new haircut from a big beautiful blond lady who looks like and elder buxom Goddess. The hairdresser lady looks fabulous in an off one shoulder floor length black gown. Well i say that i could not see her feet.
We watch, unable to hear, purposely, their inaudible conversation we just see our heroine, come in front of the large, engraved hairdresser’s mirror with little bottles on the counter before it. The visual language is universal. Our jauntily perm haired heroine is getting a haircut.
Next time we see her she is all flat haired and it’s now black. She is wearing a white cotton shift dress with tiny flower cut outs. She has red lipstick on and looks fantastic. But i missed her curly corkscrew curls escaping, slightly messy bob. She didn’t look like she was in an Italian film any more. More like some kind of Scandinavian one.
All the people’s houses have a front door with a peephole in it o far that i have noticed. i wondered if this is an overall safety measure or just a dramatic device. Anyway it served it’s purpose as the latter when she, all ready for her husband’s return, just stands double cheekbones almost glinting, just a few feet away from the peephole in the door. Staring at it expectantly. He doesn’t come. She eventually, as the allotted time passed, come up close and peers through the peephole.
Her husband Yuri doesn’t come home. He went instead to see his bewhiskered and elderly dad.. Who must have been in a wheelchair for the long day of their arrival. Since he wasn’t in one at home. So he can walk. They hug and kiss and hug. Sadly, her husband had overheard the psychiatrist man in the rehabilitation centre telling his friend that his wife had come to see him. The psychiatrist mentions the other wife’s campaigning efforts and tells his friend:”You have a very special lady there, you are lucky, she was the good one, not like the other one”
Yuri’s brother is called Yaki. The curly blond haired woman has her lovely curly hair back. It’s pretty obvious she has fallen back in love with her original husband or:she is minorly obsessed, ringing his mobile continuously whilst driving her son to school.
The tall dark haired beautiful lady , Dana, has two really bad bruises on her chest. She asks her husband about his nightmare:
“No, I didn’t have any, nobody is getting hurt” he says
Meanwhile Yuri sits at the grave of his mother and weeps in the bright sunlight. It’s always sunny there. Well it is the Middle East.
The psychiatrist from the rehabilitation centre comes to see tall dark haired man, Dana’s husband.:
“I want you to feel safe to tell me if captors offered you anything in captivity?”. The Psychiatrist keeps saying (well i keep calling him a psychiatrist when in the beginning i named him the Spyman)
Dana’s husband has a flashback to a man in a car:
“You remember everything?” May Allah keep you safe” (oops)
Uri meets beautiful Iris at the grave. She invites him for coffee and ice cream:
“Do you think you might want to do this again sometimes?” She asks Yuri. He turns her down:
“Bye, just in case you have second thoughts” (Iris says, as she gives him her mobile number)
Dana’s husband has invited he newspaper guys into play football. We see flashbacks to him being electrocuted. Shit, then he starts punching the men.
In a flashback for Uri we see his dead Mother before she dies writing to him. You see the pen, her glasses laid down on the page, everything. Cool:Hebrew goes from right to left. Uri’s Mother kisses the whole page. Uri kisses it too.
(nice scene if a little gooey)
Aha, i knew it, Iris the beautiful girl at the graveside is a plant! i thought she was a bit keen. Plus she seemed oddly immune to the fact that Uri was in a terrible state, clearly suffering from Post traumatic stress, hunched over in terror and barely able to mumble a sentence.
Yes, Iris answers the phone to Uri in a darkened room.:
“it’s Ok to talk” she says “although I’m at work”….
Israel is beautiful. i have seen one Palestinian so far.
**thoughts on Hatifum**
In Hatifum we are introduced to the three men, the prisoners of war, very slowly. It is not until they land that we see their faces. Even on the plane the men are filmed from behind so we only see the backs of their heads. At the airport their appearance is dragged out even more as they slowly walk up to the top of the steps for the final reveal.
No, it is the women we are introduced to first. Which would be how it happened in time. At least from the point of view of the women.
I must say that I really fell for Hatifum. I really liked it. it was slow moving. I nearly said at first until i realise that Hatifum doesn’t really speed up. You just become more knowledgeable about the characters and more things seem to happen.
However there are still fairly long stretches of silence as we view panoramas of scenery and the characters’ movements. The interior scenes are the same:people talk a little more inside than out.
There is precious few detail of Israel itself until near the end. Before that we see only brief cobbled streets, cars speeding along leafy streets. The occasional cafe’ or restaurant. We can only surmise that the characters live out in the country so too speak. In that it doesn’t seem like a city and there is lots of space and light and sunshine. There is one scene of a bustling busy town or city with crowds of people.
Myself i found the large amounts of space, sunshine and restful slow pace of Hatifum a refreshing change and a relaxing experience.
I liked it that there was no need to fill each scene that happened to be conversation free for a few minutes. With annoying incidental music.
The fact that we as the audience just watched the characters going about their mundane daily tasks for long periods of time with the occasional interlude of interaction interspersed. This was, in retrospect, realistic.
We became used to watching them the camera put us in the unwitting position of almost voyeur. This sounds daft to describe when you consider that all films, in essence, make the viewer into voyeur.
However Hatifum perhaps made me feel like that since the action takes place a distance away from our view. Contrasted with this are extreme extended close up scenes where we dwell entirely on one character’s face. During the times that they talk and are silent. I guess you could say like the way we watch a play
Don’t let any of this put you off. More does happen as time goes on and we, or i, really grow to care about some of the characters. We learn more about the wives of the prisoners of war most of all. Their lives and struggles whilst the men were away. The way they have all come to live a new life on their own, a different one.
All the women have coped in different ways. Without giving too much away, unusual for me and proof of how much this story reached out and tugged at me:there is a unusual dramatic device in Hatifum for one of the women. Which together with her story and her life we watch as she lives it, really hooked my heart.
You genuinely come to care about the women. Although your sympathy for how the curly haired wife managed may be slightly scattery and hard to pin down at first. We come to understand what she did, whilst simultaneously feeling sympathy for those affected by it.
Hatifum is meant to be variably painful i believe, holding out on a Hollywood all rounded moment where everything is clear. (see how i’m avoiding spoilers there?)
i also particularly liked, which i usually do, the long screen time that the male characters get. The two friends, ex-prisoners of war, who are now closer and need each other more than their wives. We follow their progress, their trials and tribulations which are made up of the most smallest of things. The most mundane of tasks that they find to be overwhelming and near unsurmountable. Their acute and believable emaciation, fear and trembling and obvious post traumatic stress.
How the two friends support each other unquestioningly and go off on ultimately an adventure of their own. Like two only recently shaking and terrified mute scarecrows that slowly struggle for strength as they embark on their quest.
The stories of the men are seen apart from the women. Yet each of their sets of stories are endearing and deep to behold.
***Hatifum Vs. Homeland***
i preferred Hatifum to Homeland. Although they are hardly comparable becuase they are so different. Homeland has the prisoner of war as being away for eight years, Hatifum they are away for 18 years. Homeland was almost slick, punchy comic book caper made large from the story of Hatifum. Its an odd translation somehow from one version to another. The longer length of time makes what happens to the prisoners of war more believable.
n.b. i’m trying to remain spoiler free since not everyone will have seen Homeland. Homeland was good-ish. (i wrote about Homeland on the Guardian Newspaper online weekly Blog on Homeland and posted it here) i wrote a lot about how ridiculous
Homeland was in parts possibly it was too chock full of cliches to take more or entirely seriously.
Although for all it’s faults Homeland was sustained by it’s cast. Particularly Brody, Claire Danes, even gruff and grumbling Saul. Jess,, Brody’s wife i kind of forgave for being so wooden because of being so beautiful. Jess just seemed to have been brainwashed that was all. Into being a 1950’s housewife. She may just have been portraying depressed. Perhaps there are just so many cliche’s bouncing about now, that nothing can entirely be free of their eternal rebounds.
However Hatifum, being set in a completely different and unknown country brings an edge of freshness to the proceedings. Israel is a country never seen before, for me anyway, on film.
Just as i grew to love Inspector Montalbano for the unusual trip away to a brand new place, so i came to appreciate my journey to a whole new land in Hatifum. I found the large spaces, the light, the sunlight, the slow and leisurely pace of the action and the plain, uncluttered interior scenes all to be hugely restful.
The drama progressed at an organic pace. By which i mean it slowly grew over time and space almost as if we were watching a simple home movie of things as they happened.
I particularly liked that there was no music.. No infernal jazz or atmospheric experimental toneless dirges to denote atmosphere. No run away chirping cellos. No violently played violins. Phew. Just blessed peace and quiet and real sounding conversations.
It was all fascinating to learn and see. What the buildings were like, the streets and shops. The restaurants that looked like cafe’s. The old stone walls and cobbled streets. The ancient monument in the middle of nowhere. The divided roads, segregated by wire fences.
Its a long time before we see that and discover that there is another land if you like, at the bottom of the hill, that things seem to peter out a bit and become a bit more raggedy. Like someone ran out of materials.
For many of the episodes we only see one Palestinian who runs a cafe’ and hands the curly haired lady a pre-ordered take away meal in a bag.
The women and the men are presumably middle class and are visibly not orthodox in their clothes. Dana dresses in very plain clothes which look fabulous on her. Several of the women wear shorts, so this must be acceptable. It is certainly going to be hot, being in the Middle East.
I don’t know if Hatifum has ended or that there is another series. I wasn’t sure it had ended when it did. Suffice it to say the last episode i saw was more than dramatic. Then, next week, it was gone. i looked for it in vain but to no avail. Alas and alack i really liked it. i actually missed the characters and the journey into slow moving sunshine and light. That is when you know something is good. When you believe in the characters and even worry about them a little.
I would say that there was only one, maybe two scenes that was verging on Hallmark/ Hollywood moment for me and that ain’t bad. One of those scenes i felt reached into a teachable moment.
Will Hatifum return? i do not know. Perhaps that was the story in itself and Homeland took the story and ran with it? i wonder.
Homeland meanwhile is back on in the UK on Sundays @9pm on Channel 4..Six Episodes in now and its looking good…