The Vanishing Soldier (2023) Locarno Film Festival 2023

August 6th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Dani Rosenberg | Cast; Ido Tako, Tikva Dayan, Shmulik Cohen, Efrat Ben Tzur | Israel 97′

When an Israeli soldier disappears during a terrorist raid on his barracks all hell breaks loose in this tragic comic love story from Dani Rosenberg who looks at what freedom really means in a country permanently on its guard.

Anyone who has spent any time in Israel knows that most people live an ordinary existence despite the constant violence reported on the News. But young soldiers are ever-present in the streets and pavement cafes of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem serving as a constant reminder of how this tiny nation the size of Wales protects itself from from the vast surrounding block of countries that seek to undermine its existence.

What starts as a tense survival thriller with a young IDF soldier Schlomi fleeing from Gaza after an attack from Hamas militants soon develops into a freewheeling exploration of this soldier’s life as an ordinary young man forced to defend his country in an ongoing ‘battle,’ when all he really wants is to be at home with his girlfriend and family.

Since Israel’s foundation in 1948 military conscription has been mandatory for both sexes. From the age of 17 they are required to serve for at least two years in this major rite of passage.

In his third feature director Dani Rosenberg, also known for his TV fare, takes an almost documentary approach to show the stresses and strains of army service and how that pressure impacts on parents, friends and family members. Not just a question of routine administrative duties, army life involves the ever present possibility of severe injury and even loss of life.

After 18 year old Schlomi (Ido Take) escapes his army base in the film’s fraught opening scenes, agile camerawork and a needling score highlight the teenager’s tense state of mind as he chases round trying to reconnect with his girlfriend Shiri (Efrat Ben Sur) and eventually spending a few hours with his grandmother. Desperate to find his parents Schlomi finally tracks them down at the main hospital in Tel Aviv where his father Shmulik is recovering from a heart attack brought on by a bomb blast. He reflects laconically on what the police are calling’a terrorist incident’.

But Schlomi’s bullshit story about being home ‘for a few days leave’ doesn’t wash with his mother (Tikva Dayan) who sees a newsflash on the television telling a different story: The IDF have launched a search for Schlomi’s whereabouts believing him dead or even kidnapped. The young soldier has clearly committed a serious breach of army service leaving his angry mother to face the music with the commander while she hatches a plan for her son to save face and get back to his platoon. Despite a rather underwhelming finale, The Vanishing Soldier is a brave and intelligent drama picturing real life in Israel today. MT


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