An elderly tinkerer who struggles to keep his friends fighting for life finds himself building a “death machine” to facilitate euthanasia in Mita Tova, literally “Good Death” but playing here under the much cheerier title “The Farewell Party”. This is one of those movies that could only be Israeli, or perhaps American, of the Harold and Maude vintage.
This is also a rare movie in that the trailer perfectly gives the tone—and sadly a great many of the best jokes, though they still work in a different context in the film.
The story concerns our hero, the tinkerer, who phones a dear friend pretending to be God, and telling her while she’s got a straight ticket into heaven, they’re currently all booked up, so would she please do the chemo and fight a little longer?
Cute, right? But at the same time, he’s got a dear friend in the hospital in utter agony. They can’t or won’t give the friend the pain meds he needs, and he’s begging for death. The sick man’s wife is shaming our hero into killing his friend—but our tinkerer’s wife is the exact opposite, loathe to, as she puts it, murder.
Well, what else can you call it?
He ends up creating a machine in the manner of Kevorkian, though still on the fence. His wife ends up having an episode that puts her in the hospital, and it’s actually the sound of his friend suffering ni the neighboring room that convinces him to do it. This is really where the movie launches: Because everyone knows they did it. And before they know what’s going on, they’re fielding all kinds of requests for other people, some with incentives, and some with threats.
Worse still, it’s apparent that our tinkerer’s wife has a serious form of dementia or Alzheimer’s, and she’s now terrified of him. She doesn’t trust him not to kill her.
It’s funny. Very funny. And also tragic. Very tragic. Poignant. Heartbreaking. And funny. As in the Yiddish tradition, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Really, nobody does this better than the Israelis, and nobody today draws rich characters so easily, even if the directors here are relative newcomers.
We’ve seen many of the actors before, in Gett, in The Band’s Visit, in Spielberg’s Munich, and many others, but they seem “new” here. There’s a great sincerity and depth that plays out without really any background detail given. You just know these are old friends, they’ve been through a lot (as one has been at that age), they’ve been through it together, and that carries some clout, as The Boy likes to say.
It fits with the whole theme, really. Who are they? They’re us. They’re facing the dilemmas we are facing, or will face, or force our loved ones to face. This is a really fine film that raises the big questions without forgetting life is about love and laughter and friendship. (It was also third in our six film streak, with The Wrecking Crew and Fight Club preceding it.)