Film-makers wield light-hearted touch in a movie about euthanasia

The Farewell Party stars comedian Ze'ev Revach and actress Levana Finkelstein.
The Farewell Party stars comedian Ze'ev Revach and actress Levana Finkelstein.PHOTO: ISRAEL FILM FESTIVAL

Israeli movie The Farewell Party approaches the serious topic of euthanasia with humour

The grandmother of his former partner had just died after a long struggle with cancer. Film-maker Sharon Maymon felt that, finally, the 80- year-old had found peace.

Then, the paramedics arrived.

Maymon looked on, aghast, as they began to do what the law, and their training, required them to do: They tried to resuscitate her.

"It was an absurd moment," he tells The Straits Times in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv.

That was the seed of the drama- comedy The Farewell Party (M18, 95 minutes), a film about choosing to die that went on to win commercial and critical acclaim in Israel as well as garner awards at the Venice Film Festival in 2014.

It opens the 24th Israel Film Festival on Thursday at The Projector. Both Maymon and his long-time collaborator Tal Granit, who jointly wrote and directed the project, will attend the first of two screenings here to discuss the work.

The Farewell Party is their first co-directed feature, after having made a few short films together.

  • BOOK IT / THE FAREWELL PARTY (M18, 95 MINUTES)

  • WHERE: The Projector, Golden Mile Tower, 6001 Beach Road

    WHEN: Thursday, 7pm, and Sept 24, 2pm

    ADMISSION: $13. Go to theprojector.sg

    INFO: Co-directors and co-writers Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon will host a discussion after the Thursday screening

Their style is drama with a comedic touch and even with a serious topic like euthanasia, they were always going to approach it with humour.

"That is how we make a heavy subject acceptable to the audience," Maymon, 42, says.

Granit, 47, adds: "When people are laughing, it opens the heart to things that might be difficult to communicate in a drama."

The need to make a light-hearted movie about death informed their casting choices. They hired some of Israel's best-known veteran comedians, actors in their 60s and 70s.

In the film, a group living in an eldercare home are horrified at the thought of living on in a losing fight against an incurable, debilitating disease.

One of them devises a euthanasia machine, but they have to dodge nosy friends and investigators to avoid being arrested for murder.

Active euthanasia - when someone carries out an act that ends a life, such as administering a killing drug - is illegal in Israel unless explicitly allowed by the courts, says Granit.

But she understands that there is the widespread and secret practice of passive euthanasia, where doctors let patients with incurable conditions die by withholding life-prolonging treatments.

The question of assisted suicide will become urgent as more urban centres around the world cope with greying populations with access to modern life-prolonging procedures, she says.

"We've distributed the movie around the world, from the Netherlands to Japan to the United States and people relate to it. We are the same," she says.

But the film also has an elderly character who is appalled by the acts of the group and calls them murderers.

As part of script research, the film-makers interviewed a man with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a degenerative nerve disease, who had gained the permission of the courts to end his life. From him, they got the sense that even when everything is legal and voluntary, it can still feel wrong because of the enormity of the choice that one is making.

Granit says: "He knew it was the right thing to do, there was no hope for him, he had asked for it in writing and everyone around him was for it. But his hands were shaking for a week and he couldn't sleep."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2016, with the headline 'Death with a light touch'. Print Edition | Subscribe