‘The Farewell Party’: Funny, clear-eyed look at assisted suicide

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By Randy Cordova | Gannett News Service

In “The Farewell Party,” residents from a retirement community band together to help their terminally ill neighbors with suicides.

Sounds like a laugh riot? Well, it actually is quite funny. It is also warm and empathetic, though viewers’ reactions to the film might vary depending how they view the subject of assisted suicide.

The Israeli comedy centers most of its attention on Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach), an amateur inventor who has created a machine to remind his wife to take her daily medications. Levana (Levana Finkelshtein) dotes on her husband, though her mind is gradually slipping away, as she is slowly ravaged by Alzheimer’s.

Yehezkel is entreated to help build a euthanasia device as he watches a friend dying of cancer. He gets assistance from fellow resident Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar), who turns out to be a retired veterinarian as opposed to a physician.

The movie’s tone gradually darkens as Levana’s memory fades, and she wonders about using Yehezkel’s machine. In one heartbreaking scene, she shows up in the center’s dining hall, unaware that she is wearing no clothes. The way that Yehezkel and her friends offer support is both hilarious and heartfelt.

Written and directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, the movie deftly walks a delicate tightrope. It never lapses into mawkishness, but remains clear-eyed and compassionate. It’s not coldly clinical; instead, the characters are treated with grace and respect.

That’s not to say everything works. A musical number inserted in the middle is a bit jarring, and at times the gags boast the rat-a-tat-tat timing of a Neil Simon play. But the film’s honesty is genuinely captivating.

The movie was nominated for 14 awards at Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars, and star Revach was named best actor. He is wonderful, whether he’s caring for his ailing wife or pretending to be God and phoning a neighbor to tell her that it’s not her time to die because there are no vacancies in heaven, like it’s some grand hotel.

[s3r star=3/4]

Samuel Goldwyn Filmspresents a film written and directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon.In Hebrew with English subtitles.Running time: 90minutes. No MPAA rating.OpensFriday at the Music Box and Landmark Renaissance Place in Highland Park.

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