Movie Review: Infiltration (Israel – 2010)

Israeli films about the early years of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are usually about elite combat troops who enlist every ounce of bravery and ingenuity they can muster in order to overcome insanely difficult odds and cope with the horrors of war. But even in the 1950s, not everyone was or could be on the front lines, and for those less than completely fit, there are always plenty of non-combat positions that need to be filled. One thing all soldiers have in common is that before they can be placed in a unit, they have to go through boot camp. In a series of connected vignettes, the 2010 Israeli film “Infiltration” (Hitganvut Yehidim) shows us a group of misfit soldiers in the IDF as they try to make it through their basic training.

Set in the mid-1950s, the soldiers of “Infiltration” really are a rag-tag bunch that includes men from the city and the kibbutz, new and veteran immigrants, religious and secular as well as a drug dealer, a homosexual, an epileptic, and more. Central to the story are two main characters. There’s Avner, the Sephardic Jew whose defiance for authority and need for sleep, even when he’s on guard duty, land him constantly in trouble with his commanding officers. On the other end of the spectrum we have the kibbutznik Alon, who insists he’s there by mistake, and does all he can to prove he should go back to the paratroopers unit he was dropped from. And while their officers knows of all their disabilities and problems, that doesn’t stop him from having his drill sergeant try to shape them into soldiers. Of course, that makes these two the common enemy of the troop, but that’s nothing unusual.

Certainly this situation would work well for a comedy. While this film has a good amount of humor, this is not an attempt to make “Lemon Popsicle goes to the Army” (the Israeli version of American Graffiti). Rather, we have a slightly comedic drama which gives us more than just an outsider’s look into this collection of young men. What we get is a glimpse into the workings of how these guys tick, and even to some extent why. For instance, our Avner’s lack of motivation when it comes to the army isn’t at all evident when he’s chasing after Ashkenazi women. (Back then, one way a Sephardic could get into Israel’s higher society was to marry into an Ashkenazi family – preferably a rich one.) In addition, we also see how these men become a group, in spite of themselves, as their vast differences and initial prejudices are at least partially ignored when their situation gives them common ground. For instance, when having to spend the night in tents in the field, they wordlessly join together in defiance against their officers because a torrential rainfall combined with leaking equipment, makes it impossible for them to sleep.

While non-Israelis might not understand all of the nuances in the script, they certainly can enjoy a cast of actors who bring this collection of characters beautifully to life on the screen. The film is well directed with some beautiful cinematography and well worth a watch for those looking for a film about Israel and the early days of the IDF, from a very different angle than any before. I can honestly recommend this Israeli movie (which was recently released on DVD) and give it a solid four out of five stars.

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