'The Farewell Party' review: Compassionate, humorous euthanasia tale

From Israel, the dearest little death squad you ever saw.

Full of gracefully wrought and dryly comic turns, "The Farewell Party" goes by the name "A Good Death" in Hebrew, and it's an easy film about difficult matters. One can wish it were a different and deeper experience. But the one it offers is an effective little machine, much like the mercy-killing sedative dispenser built by the Jerusalem retirement home resident played by Ze'ev Revach, winner of the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar.

"Help me get it over with," pleads Max (Shmuel Wolf), dying by painful degrees. He wants an assist to end it all. His wife (Aliza Rozen) begs her friend Yehezkel (Revach) and his wife, Levana (Levana Finkelshtein), to figure out a way to do it.

As with so many comedies, the gang must be assembled before the mission is accomplished. Ilan Dar plays a retired veterinarian, secretly the lover of a retired policeman (Rafael Tabor), both of whom take part in the euthanasia.

In a different film, the story would end with what writers-directors Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit clearly see as an act of moral kindness. In "The Farewell Party" this scene comes relatively early; the bulk of the narrative imagines the aftermath of the mercy killing.

The filmmakers' technique is immaculate throughout, dominated by right-angle and head-on compositions of wry formality. The acting's terrific, and at the heart of this modest winner is a marriage, portrayed by Revach and Finkelshtein, full of tenderness and serious dementia-related challenges, though these are touched upon rather than explored.

That's how it is with a film running 87 minutes minus its end credits: no time for dark corners. This is straight-up commercial comedy, low-keyed diversion, and while it can't hold a candle to recent, dark-comic Israeli achievements such as Joseph Cedar's "Footnote," the actors more than save it.

Phillips is a Tribune critic.

mjphillips@tribpub.com

Twitter @phillipstribune

"The Farewell Party" - 3 stars

No MPAA rating

Running time: 1:30

Opens: Friday. In Hebrew with English subtitles.

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