Following a few residents of a retirement community in Jerusalem, the Israeli film The Farewell Party makes drama out of right-to-die politics and asserts that just about everyone who makes it past a certain age will have to contend with the issue in one way or another.
Begged by a friend who’s painfully wasting away from a terminal illness, Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach) designs a Dr. Kevorkian–like tool to offer easy passing; soon enough, desperate patients and family members come out of the woodwork to request his services. That somewhat grave outlook is reflected in writer-director team Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon’s curious mix of sensitive writing and cumbrous scene staging, but its severity is thankfully tempered by an expressive, sympathetic cast.
Mostly skirting legal issues — and religion is addressed casually, with a knowing wink — The Farewell Party focuses on the convoluted sense of personal responsibility between husbands and wives, secret lovers, and conspiring friends whose sketchy meetings in the pool are just awkward enough to feel real. Despite the seemingly random inclusion of a jarring Magnolia-style singalong sequence, the actors are strong enough to make the emotions stick, particularly Aliza Rosen as Yana, a stout fighter who campaigns fiercely for her husband’s relief, and Levana Finkelstein as Yehezkel’s wife, a delicate woman whose quickly advancing dementia brings the issues into the couple’s home.
It’s these relationships that give Granit and Maymon’s film its particular character, depicting the end of life not as an isolated horror (as in Michael Haneke’s Amour) or as the contested site of legal and political factions, but as a complex social phase, its wobbly moral scale hinging on empathy.