“Infiltration” (2011)

6 Nov

So, verdict is in: if Infiltration comes across your path, definitely make sure to check it out. Very much worth watching. Here, have another trailer with subtitles this time:

I am stupidly grateful that this is not yet another one of those Israeli movies clearly made to be showcased at festivals abroad and looks like an oversimplified farce to local eyes. No, if you are an outsider you will absolutely miss out on certain things in this movie. Incidetnally, the script was written (as the adaptation of an award winning book) by the head of the film department at my uni, which… is very sad! Because it’s definitely not the best script I’ve ever seen. The movie felt a bit uneven to me (we’re talking as-seen-by-locals now, so don’t assume my impressions will be yours as well), with some scenes being absolutely breathtakingly fantastic and others being merely OK.

The movie takes places in 1953 and follows a company of boys through bootcamp. The catch is that this is not just any bootcamp, this is bootcamp for guys with disabilities, either mental or physical, that are severe enough to bar them from “real” soldiering but not so severe that the IDF gives them a total exemption from service. In 1953 that picture looks… pretty terrifying. People with skin conditions, anxiety and emotional problems, epilepsy and hereditary illnesses are forced to go through 3 fucking months of bootcamp doing combat drills and fitness exercises in an environment that is at best exasperated with them and at worst actively hostile to their various limitations. Suck it up, be a man, you’re in the army now.

Which… is extremely painful and horrifying to see from today’s perspective. In today’s IDF all of these people would have gotten various exemptions from specific tasks and at best would probably do 10 days of bootcamp where they’d barely be asked to fire a weapon. The IDF isn’t perfect about disabilities but watching this movie mad me realize how fucking far it’s come, jfc. I mean just. At some point they have a flag raising ceremony or whatever and someone has an episode of epilepsy and collapses where he stands and the ceremony just goes on without the guy getting any kind of medical assistance because army rules mean there’s no disrupting of a military ceremony. I’m used to medics being on call and watching from the sidelines for things like dehydration and sudden injury whenever something like a ceremony takes place and darting to provide first aid or evacuate people, nevermind if someone has a preexisting condition.

Anyway, but the fact that all of these people have various disabilities is of course not the only thing that sets them apart. They are also the outcasts of Israeli society in other ways. They’re immigrants, they’re gay, they’re Mizrahi, they’re poor. A few of the characters are various flavors of privileged white boys and their disdain for the others (and vice versa) is immediately apparent.

I think my favorite character from this movie (OK, except Ben Hamo which, if you ever see the film I think you’ll have a hard time not utterly falling for; 3 of my most favorite moments in the movie were his scenes) is the group’s CO, Commander Benny. Benny is played to perfection as the typical bootcamp CO in the IDF. I mean seriously, he is just THAT GUY. He’s confident and charming and assertive and supportive and ultimately uses the small amount of power given to him by the military system to rule over his charges like a sadistic dictator. And I mean, today he wouldn’t be allowed to shoot wooden bullets at his trainees during an infiltration exercise, but whatever tools he had at his disposal, you can bet he’d abuse them and you can bet people are abusing them in the IDF right now (which is why I am so fucking grateful and all manner of humiliation and bullshit ~toughening up~ is basically illegal now, even if it does happen in some combat units and of course people occasionally do stupid shit anyway, etc).

Benny’s not a bad guy. He’s just a kid like the other characters, but he’s a kid who’s been given a lot of power over peoples’ lives and as a graduate of a combat unit (his red boots speak volumes to IDF grads; another small detail) he can’t really relate (nor does he want to, nor is he expected to) to his trainees, some of whom are not physically capable of the kind of physical exertion he’s used to taking for granted. To him they’re all invalids and pussies. And the system tells him he has to teach them to obey, be disciplined, be “men,” and he does that the way inexperienced people who’ve never looked too closely at their own privilege often do. It’s interesting to note that he has the least compassion of all the command staff, the rest of whom are of Mizrahi origins and lower social-economic statuses than Ashkenazi, middle class Benny. He’s occasionally childish and petty in a way that isn’t inconsistent with how 19-20 year olds are often childish and petty but here this behavior has disastrous consequences.

Watching the film I couldn’t not draw comparisons between it and “One Bullet Away” by Nate Fick, a book about how Fick became a US Marine officer circa 2000. The truly depressing/terrifying thing is that the worst of what was shown in this movie is the milder sort of stuff Fick describes as part of his training. I’ve mentioned this when I talked about reading his book, but the process of manufacturing masculinity and the completely bizarre insistence on hazing and verbal humiliation which Fick took for granted (and later found ways to excuse) is something this movie takes great issue with and deconstructs pretty thoroughly.


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