THE FAREWELL PARTY, Israel, 2014, starring Ze'ev Revach, Lavana Finkelstein. Directed by Tal Granit, Sharon Maymon. 95 minutes, Rated M (No information given, though the theme is death and euthanasia).
A Farewell Party seems to light a title for this rather serious film. Some of the advertising and reviews emphasise comedy touches – and it does begin with an old man telephoning an older lady with dementia, pretending to be God, asking after her health and promising her a place in heaven (with his wife then rebuking him for playing tricks on susceptible people). But, the themes of the film are quite serious.
This is an in Israeli film, set in a home for the aged. After the initial joke, we are introduced to a very elderly man in a great deal of pain, dying, his wife upset, ranting at the nurses on the ward for not attending to her husband as she wished. Immediately, the issue of pain, palliative care, assisted suicide and euthanasia come to the fore.
The man who played pranks is something of an inventor and decides to make a machine that can administer something lethal to those in pain. The doctor they consult is certainly not in favour of euthanising patients. But they do get some advice from a vet, information about drugs administered to animals, and that gives the inventor as well as the dying man’s wife and other friends an incentive to go ahead.
This means that the screenplay challenges the audience: do they share the pain, the unbearable pain, of those who are dying, especially of the elderly? And the screenplay also raises the expected questions, the ethical questions, the moral questions, the religious questions, especially in the context of Israel.
When the machine is a success, there are various requests, as well as headlines of pacts between spouses who kills the other spouse and then kill themselves. One of the things that the group of the elderly do, apart from attending funerals, singing together, is making videos of those who are about to be euthanised, their final message, their consent.
Things come to a head when the wife of the inventor is sinking into dementia. She has been opposed to the machine and its applications but now…
All the characters all have their eccentricities – and touches of humour – but, the underlying themes of pain, age, suffering and death pervade every aspect of the film.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Jewish International Film Festival Distribution.
Released August 6th 2015.