21 February 2014 | Nozz
Nice, but the suspense sputters
This is the first movie I ever saw that bills a member of its screen writing team not just pseudonymously, but anonymously. "An anonymous screenwriter," it says, along with Avraham Kushnir. I wonder if the anonymous screenwriter was responsible for the prologue and epilogue, which the Jerusalem Post's reviewer says seemed quite dispensable.
The prologue presents an urgent crisis related to possible nuclear war in the present or near future, and then the body of the movie presents Israel's original bomb-building program, from several decades ago, in fictionalized form. Did that program contribute to future crises, or to their resolution? Not until the epilogue does the movie take a clear stand on such questions. So maybe the purpose of the prologue and epilogue was to build a bridge of suspense over the story that occupies most of the movie. Or to proclaim a point of view on the nuclear question because the movie could not be released in wishy-washy form.
I can understand the perceived need for extra suspense, because building suspense is a problem in movies about more-or-less known history. It helps to include some fictionalized characters whom the audience cares about and whose fate is up to the screenwriters. In "Sunflower," there are attempts to build suspense over who will or will not join the bomb-building team, but there's no reason for the audience to care which fictionalized character joins a fictionalized team and which doesn't. The characters aren't drawn that strongly. Then it turns out that the team is a dangerous place to be, because there are people around who will stop at nothing. Aha, a little more interesting. But the little suspenseful episodes tend to conclude quickly, leaving the movie without continuous momentum.
Several of the actors are quite familiar to the Israeli public, not because they are necessarily on the A list, but because they appear on TV, not always as actors. It's nice to see them on the big screen, and they acquit themselves well. The movie is amusingly cynical about the personal and national egotism, and the personal relationships, that can wind up driving incidents of international importance, and the period setting looks authentic. Perhaps because those were the days when people had very few photograph records, and one of the records tended to be Dvorak's New World Symphony, snatches of the New World Symphony are used as background music for almost everything.