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The Farewell Party

June 12, 2015
The Farewell Party

Assisted suicide is kind of a touchy subject here in America, and tensions are straining as some states move towards experimental legislation allowing it under certain circumstances. And that’s without even our government being formally associated with a particular religion, despite the best efforts of one party. Imagine the controversy in a nation like Israel, whose laws must align with those of Judaism, which comes down strictly against this sort of thing.

The Farewell Party raises exactly this question in no uncertain terms. It makes the case for allowing euthanasia, while treating with respect some of the arguments against it. And in the process it touches on a whole host of other issues associated with aging and elder-care in modern societies. Naturally it’s a comedy.

The film is set in an assisted living facility in Jerusalem. Max (Samuel Wolf) is in hospital, waiting for his inevitable death with nothing but palliative care left. He begs his wife, Yana (Aliza Rosen) and his friend Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach) to help end his suffering. Yehezkel’s wife, Levana (Levana Finkelshtein) is dead-set against the idea, but he can’t leave it alone. He and Yana find one of the other residents who can help: Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar) used a cocktail of euthanasia drugs hundreds of times — when he was a veterinarian. And his down-low boyfriend Raffi (Rafi Tabor) is a former cop who can help them get away with it.

But still, none of them want to take responsibility for actually ending Max’ life. Luckily Yehezkel used to be an engineer, and he’s still a tinkerer in his copious spare time. He finds a set of plans for a Kevorkian-style setup on the internet and fabricates them into a suitcase they can bring into Max’ hospital room. And, after some tense moments, it works. But their problems are only beginning, since Max is far from the only person around who wants an easier way out, and a secret is hard thing to keep in a retirement home.

There is, of course, a spectrum of candidates for assisted suicide. Max is at the very obvious end of that, where nothing can possibly be done but wait out the last days in a combination of pain and a drugged haze. But what about someone with metastatic cancer, beyond hope of current treatment but not yet on the final, downward slide? If she feels she’s lived a full life and has made peace with her end, how far must she go before it’s okay for her to take the side door out? And what of people whose minds are slipping away, but whose bodies may continue running on automatic for years?

This last question is raised particularly poignantly for Levana, who slowly begins to tip over the edges of dementia in front of us. The manager of the assisted-living facility tells Levana she’s going to have to move into a full-on nursing home, and a visit to one of the better places horrifies her with a possible future as a vegetable. Suicide doesn’t seem like such a repellant idea after all, but is it justified in her case?

Co-writers and directors Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon move skillfully between the compassionate portrayals of people wrestling with these questions and the humor that makes them bearable. It’s a delicate balance, to laugh in the face of death without making light of the pain of the dying, but it’s a balance this charming, thoughtful film manages to strike.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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