Kippur
dir. Amos Gitai
Opens Fri Jan 26 at Broadway Market.

AMOS GITAI, ONE of Israel's most prominent filmmakers, was a 23-year-old reservist when the Yom Kippur War broke out. His film Kippur, which reenacts the five days he spent on active service, is as strange a movie as I've ever seen.

Large stretches of Kippur are photographed with daring innovation. Gitai and Renato Berta, his cinematographer, use a handheld camera with a zoom lens to film an incident and then back out to put it in context, all in a single shot. Or, once more in a single shot, they film an overview and then move in to the telling detail. Again and again they use long single takes--I mean really long takes, like three, four, five minutes. What's the length of an ordinary single shot? Twenty seconds? Fifteen seconds? We're so accustomed to the rhythm of cut/cut/cut that these long, lithe, agile shots have enormous emotional impact.

Gitai and Berta went to extraordinary lengths to use what they call "physical effects," enlisting FX talent from the James Bond movies to grave effect. In order to photograph the bombing of a helicopter, they didn't build a helicopter set and bluescreen the landscape in later; instead they used a hydraulic lift to suspend a real helicopter over a real landscape. As with the camerawork, I found these physical equivalents for the look and feel of battle utterly compelling.

In fact, the good things about this movie are so good that I'm mystified by the bad ones. Scenes of the utmost artistry alternated with scenes of clownish amateurishness. Every word of the dialogue was twaddle, but there were eloquent silences. A crucial sequence in the mud felt like an acting exercise allowed to run overtime with no thought for the characters' intelligence. An introductory paint-smearing sequence reeked of cheeseball symbolism. But then there were those battle scenes, as powerful and mature as any I've ever seen. I don't know what to make of it.

Barley Blair is the pseudonym of a little old lady who doesn't think of herself as being easily befuddled.

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