14 September 2015 | CleveMan66
"The Farewell Party" tackles in important topic with humor and heart.
A woman in a retirement home answers a telephone ringing in the hallway. The caller pretends to be God and asks the terminally-ill woman to continue her difficult medical treatments. "We currently don't have any vacancies," he says, referring to heaven. He adds that the woman's husband says "hello." The woman is shocked. "My husband?" she says. "I was never married." God quickly hangs up.
This is the opening scene from the Israeli comedy-drama "The Farewell Party" (NR, 1:35) and it perfectly encapsulates what the movie is – a sometimes comedic look at the very serious topic of euthanasia.
Yehezkel (Ze'ev Revach) is an old man who has several friends in a Jerusalem retirement home. As one of his friends lies in great pain and close to death, the man's wife begs Yehezkel to do something to help her husband. Yehezkel is a retired machinist. He researches and builds a euthanasia device which allows his friend to press a button and self-administer a drug that basically puts him to sleep. The old man is able to end his suffering and die with dignity. His widow is heart-broken, but grateful. What seemed like an ending, however, turns out to be only the beginning of the story for Yehezkel and his friends.
Rumors about the old man's death quickly circulate around the retirement home. Yehezkel and his co-conspirators soon find themselves facing a series of moral dilemmas regarding helping to end the suffering of others. One man threatens to call the police if the group doesn't help his terminally-ill wife in the same way that they helped the first man. As it becomes clear that this will not be the last such request, they each have to come to terms with what they've done and decide how to react to what they're now being asked. As they begin to disagree about what to do next, and the circumstances start hitting even closer to home, the decisions become more difficult, and the dilemmas more profound.
Neither the film nor its characters take this topic lightly, even though the script does have some fun with the various circumstances that present themselves. The movie's opening scene shows that Yehezkel (the voice of "God" on one end of that phone call) wants to preserve the life of his friends. Yet, out of respect for them, and probably wondering what he'd want if he were in their situation, Yehezkel and a few others choose what they see as the least terrible among some pretty terrible options. To keep the movie from being too depressing, and to make such a serious topic more palatable, the script allows us to see a little of the humor in the lives of these characters – and in some of their deaths – but with due respect.
"The Farewell Party" tells an interesting story about a controversial subject and still manages to function well as entertainment. The film is more serious than the trailer, movie poster and title imply, but most of the humor is well-done and well-placed throughout the film. The script and direction of Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon balance the comedy and drama based on what's happening in the story at any given moment and the very talented cast makes it work. Still, just a few of the movie's light-hearted moments feel a little inappropriate and a sub-plot about a secret romantic relationship between two male characters seems unnecessarily distracting, but those are relatively minor complaints. Overall, this movie entertains the audience, while encouraging each audience member to think about a very important topic and how we each feel about it. "B+"