April 27, 2010
2 Israeli Works Highlight L.A. Jewish Film Festival
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Their attitudes and accents in Hebrew make them instant outsiders in their own unit. Glory, who has nowhere to go anyhow, makes some extra money by pulling weekend guard duties for sabras who want to go home instead.
When the film opens, it’s 1997, the men’s unit is stationed facing the Lebanese border and an overjoyed Sasha has just been accepted for officer’s training, when disaster strikes.
The two men are accused of selling ammunition and a rifle to Hamas, which the terrorists use later to kill five Israelis. The Russians maintain their innocence but are convicted and sentenced in a civil court and sent to jail, where they are brutalized by a sadistic officer and harassed by fellow inmates as “Hamasniks” and “traitors.” Stubbornly, the two men insist that as soldiers they are entitled to a retrial by a military court and, if found innocent, a return to their combat unit.
After this introduction, what follows are enough tension, flying bullets and homemade Molotov cocktails to satisfy any fan of Western movies.
The film is based on an actual case that stunned Israel in the late 1990s, but since few Americans will remember the trial and its aftermath, it would be unfair to reveal the rest of the plot.
But, as the title indicates, the movie is meant to focus on the sense of isolation felt by the IDF’s “lone soldiers.” Glory summarizes these resentments in a letter toward the end of the film, but more could have been done to weave this theme into the body of the narrative.
“The Loners,” by veteran director Renen Schorr, falls into the Israeli cinematic tradition of looking unsparingly at the country’s shortcomings, in this case the all-macho attitude of the army and, at times, derision of immigrant newcomers.
But the movie is more balanced than most such self-critical pictures by also showing principled and fair-minded army officers and is characterized by impressive acting.
Outstanding as the fierce and hot-tempered Glory is Sasha Avshalom Agrounov, who, according to the publicity release, has never acted professionally before.
His bravura performance earned Agrounov the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar as last year’s top Israeli actor.
“The Loners” will have its American premiere at the closing presentation at the festival, a coup for the festival’s executive director, Hilary Helstein. It will screen May 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Laemmle’s Town Center in Encino, with filmmaker Schorr on hand for a Q-&-A session.
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