Inspired by true events that took place at a military prison in northern Israel in 1997, Renen Schorr’s The Loners tells the story of Glory (Sasha Agronov) and Sasha (Anton Ostrovski-Klin). The two Golani soldiers, immigrants from Russia, are “lone soldiers” – living in Israel without any family. Accused of treason, they are sent to a military prison where they are outsiders in every sense: not only are they “foreigners” whose native language is not Hebrew, they are traitors, rejected even by their fellow inmates.
Their request for a retrial is met with indifference and the action takes off from there. In the best tradition of prison and military-themed movies, knowing the outcome does not take away one’s suspense or enjoyment of the movie. Yet in its sensitive portrayal of the protagonists and the subtleties of their relationship, the movie raises questions that take it beyond the genre.
Remaining solidly in the context of a tight action narrative, issues of cultural differences and identity are not explicitly examined, yet create another presence in the film. What is the experience of an individual from another culture who is plunged into the micro-culture that is the Israeli military, with its own slang, structure and codes of behavior that may well be inaccessible to an outsider? What responsibility does the system have towards these soldiers who must function in a language and culture not their own, without the support of family? Unlike their fellow Israeli soldiers they have no relief from the pressures of military life, no home to run to on their day off.
What frame of reference forms their definitions of loyalty and honesty, what does it mean to be “a good soldier?” Is it a question of marksmanship? Is it a matter of ‘winning’? What does it mean to be a good friend, a good person? Whether or not it was the intent of the director, these were the questions in my mind as I watched the movie, and continued to think about long after it was over. “The Loners” is one of six Israeli feature films competing for the Wolgin Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
Israel 2009, 92 minutes, Hebrew and Russian, Hebrew and English subtitles