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Israeli comedy, "Forgiveness," shows there CAN be honor, even redemption, among thieves

From: "Cut ‘Forgiveness’ some slack" by Hannah Brown in the Jerusalem Post October 15, 2019

"Forgiveness," the latest movie by Guy Amir and Hanan Savyon, the creators of "Maktub," one of the most commercially successful movies in Israeli history, is a light-hearted, silly caper/comedy with dramatic and sentimental undertones.

Stars of Israeli "Forgiveness" "Mechilah" Guy Amir, Hanan Savyon, producer Adar Shafran at Israel Film Fest

In short, it’s the kind of movie critics tend to hate and audiences tend to love. As the late New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael once said, a lot of movie reviewers act as if they wish they could see The Seventh Seal (a heavy film about death and redemption by Ingmar Bergman) every day. Forgiveness doesn’t aspire to be anything more than a very Israeli story of two shlubby guys who ruin each other’s lives, drive each other crazy and forgive each other – and get into a lot of trouble along the way.

Strung together like a series of comedy set pieces, it’s the latest local movie – like the summer’s big hit, Mossad – to go for popular success and lure audiences away from Hollywood films, network television and Netflix, and it mostly hits the mark. 

Addressing the audience directly, Israeli cast of "Forgiveness" Guy Amir, Hanan Savyon, Alon Aboutboul, with producer Alon Shafran & Festival director Meir Fenigstein

Aimed at the Israelis most filmmakers forget, it’s set in a town right on the Gaza border, and missiles and red alerts are woven into the plot. It opens as Shaul (Guy Amir) and Nissan (Hanan Savyon) two lifelong friends, have decided to rob a postal bank. They think they’ve got a great a plan, but just from looking at them, you can tell it’s not going to work out. Shaul is going to enter the bank via the sewer and crack the safe. All Nissan has to do is be the lookout. What could possibly go wrong? Since Nissan is wearing open-toed slippers – the first of many only-in-Israel touches – he bangs his foot and screams, alerting those sleeping in a nearby apartment. He flees and goes abroad, leaving Shaul to crawl up into police custody. 

Writer/actors Guy Amir and Hanan Savyon with producer Alon Shafran at Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles

Three years later, Shaul gets out of prison and no one is there to greet him but Nissan. Only it’s not the Nissan he once knew. His old friend has become religious and now has a long beard and a black hat and coat, in addition to a van covered with ultra-Orthodox inspirational stickers. Shaul doesn’t want to see him – all he wants is his share of the money, which Nissan has hidden. As they argue, a siren sounds, the first of many scenes interrupted by missile fire. Shaul heads home, to his wife (Noa Koler of Our Boys and The Wedding Plan), who is still angry at him for the robbery and his daughter, who is embarrassed by him. His wife is working double shifts as a manicurist, trying to make money to send their daughter to London to study ballet.
Mechila / Forgiveness poster

The money Nissan hid has disappeared, of course, and the two soon team up again to steal from a Bedouin sheik and from the local gangster (Alon Aboutboul), who stores his ill-gotten cash in his stable and whose wife complains that the cash he hands her for shopping sprees smells like horse manure. Tsahi Halevi (Mossad) plays the gangster’s right-hand man. Shaul and Nissan don various disguises – Nissan dresses like a Bedouin at one point – and get into increasingly improbable predicaments. But the plot really doesn’t matter: It’s obvious from the first second that Shaul will get the money, that his wife will forgive him, Nissan will end up with the lovely singing widow (Shiri Maimon, in her acting debut) and that Shaul will forgive Nissan for leaving him behind.
Alon Aboutboul, on his role as mafia drug kingpin in Mechilah ("Forgiveness")


The most entertaining part of this film is watching the two comic actors spar, and how much you enjoy the film will depend on how much they charm you. The duo, who created and starred in the hit television series Asfur, and who co-directed this film, have great rapport and always seem to be having a good time, no matter how dire their predicament. And they throw in a few unexpected touches, like an Arabic version of the classic song, “La Bamba.”

The movie is set during the Days of Awe. Highbrows who can’t forgive audiences for flocking to a movie like this should remember that the profits from Forgiveness will finance dozens of art movies.

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