As poignant as it is funny, Forgiveness (Mechila – original Hebrew title), Guy Amir and Hanan Savyon’s new film, with its release just before Rosh Hashanah, is also wonderfully timely. The creators of Maktub (2017) have a knack for conveying a very Israeli sensibility, with an emphasis on traditional, Middle Eastern Jewish values, in the course of this slightly zany, buddy crime-caper film.
In the opening scene partners-in-crime Shaul (Guy Amir) and Nissan (Hanan Savyon) attempt to rob the post office. Shaul is the one who goes down the manhole to access the safe, while Nissan is the lookout. Somehow, the awkward, rather timid, and utterly clueless Nissan manages to mess things up. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, but when the police arrive, Nissan gets away (with the loot!) but Shaul is caught.
Three years later, Shaul walks out of prison, and Nissan, who in the interim has become very religious, waits for him, seeking his forgiveness. Set in the days of repentance coming just before Yom Kippur, Forgiveness emphasizes the Jewish tenet that the most serious sins are those between people, for they cannot be forgiven by God. Nissan can only be forgiven by the person he has wronged – Shaul. Shaul is more inclined to punch Nissan in the face than grant him absolution. Yet Nissan is determined to make things right. Given his personality, this leads Nissan to a series of hilarious bad decisions.
Set in the South, the film shows as aspect of Israeli life that is not often seen in film, the experiences of people who have lived under rocket fire for years. The more affluent live in apartments outfitted with a reinforced security room, while those living in older buildings congregate together in the nearest shelter. The issue of rocket fire on the town is an underlying theme in the film, utilized for both dramatic and comic purposes. There are a few scenes which show the building’s residents hurrying down the apartment stairwell towards the shelter in pajamas; the disruption and fear are a way of life for those who live in the Southern part of Israel.
Shaul and Nissan may be criminals, but they are not portrayed as bad guys. Initially, Shaul just wants to make enough money to afford a better apartment because his young daughter Noam can’t sleep at night for fear of rocket fire. After serving his sentence, his skill set has not expanded beyond safe-cracking, and he needs to figure out how he can support his family. A greater concern is how will he ever make amends to his wife Orna (Noa Koler) and daughter Noam (Lieli Alcon). Here come the bad decisions, that end up involving Alon Abutbul as the resident wealthy crime boss, and Tzahi Halevi as his macho enforcer.
Noa Koler (The Wedding Plan) is one of my favorite Israeli actors. She has an understated delivery that communicates an emotional depth, and she is wonderful here as Orna, Shaul’s wife, conveying the contradictory feelings and inner conflict of the character. Shiri Maimon makes her debut feature film appearance here as Nissan’s love interest, bringing a charming sincerity to her portrayal of the widowed Rivki, as well as the magic of her music.
There are many funny scenes (some a bit crude in their humor), anchored by a message of compassion, as relationships are depicted with honesty and warmth. Some of my favorite scenes are those that take place in the nail salon where Orna works, reflecting the community culture where everyone, even total strangers, join in the conversation with gusto, sharing their opinions, and feelings. The rapport between Shaul and Nissan is wonderful, capturing the unique qualities of a friendship that endures through the years, the kind of relationship in which Shaul loves Nissan even when he hates him.
2019/Israel/1 hour 44 min/Hebrew
Written and directed by Guy Amir and Hanan Savyon; Cinematography: Lael Utnik; Editing: Simon Herman; Music: Ran Bagno; Cast: Guy Amir, Alon Abutbul, Tzahi Halevi, Noa Koler, Shiri Maimon, Hanan Savyon, Lieli Alcon.