Film Review: Image of Victory

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writer: Avi Nesher, Liraz Brosh, Ehud Bleiberg

Director: Avi Nesher

Image of Victory is a film with good intentions. Israeli writer and director Avi Nesher, inspired by historical events surrounding the Battle of Nitzanim, aims to tell a story that gives both sides to this controversial moment in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. The battle itself, although this is not spelt out in the film, was a first major Egyptian victory and the original interpretation of the Israeli surrender controversial: their failure to defend the beleaguered Kibbutz Nitzanim deemed treachery.

What makes this film frustrating to watch, however, is that Nesher’s attempt to create a network of intersecting plots results in narrative confusion. Too many characters and themes vie for our attention. At the beginning we are introduced to the framework. It’s 1979 and Hassanin, played by Amir Khoury, ‘Egypt’s greatest journalist!’ as his wife handily reminds him) is wracked with guilt, hearing of Sadat’s signing of the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. This all at once shatters his faith in his what he believed to be the justness of the war in support Egypt’s Palestinian brothers.

Then we’re back in 1948 in the small Arab settlement close to the equally small kibbutz at isolated Nitzanim. Hassanin has been recruited on orders of King Farouk to film events as they happen. So far there seem to have been only minor skirmishes and Hassanin’s idealism remains intact. His inspiration to look for The Truth, he tells his sidekick, is Frank Capra’s film series, Why We Fight, seemingly unaware that this series is American propaganda. But the fact that he spends a lot of time trying to capture what he sees as a love story between a village couple makes us wonder about his journalistic acuity. In any case, King Farouk doesn’t really want truthful reportage: he wants images of victory.

From here on in, the film cuts constantly between life on the kibbutz and scenes in which Hassanin, forever immaculate in Western clothes, follows round after Arab villagers, eager for potential footage. The main narrative problem is that Hassanin’s reminiscences have supposedly been awakened by the memory of a beautiful Jewish girl, Mira, whom he glimpses refusing to surrender, a Mona Lisa-like smile playing about her lips before she is shot dead. It is Mira’s story, in fact, that is the main focus of the film. But how can Hassanin be narrating all this when he simply wasn’t there?

The film becomes an increasingly frustrating watch as Nesher tries too hard to give all the minor characters back stories. Mira herself (a suitably sultry Joy Rieger) seems something of a fantasy figure for Nesher. She is given lots of suggestive dialogue – emphasising the the gentle handling her radio needs, while looking up from under her eye lashes with an enigmatic smile. As a way of suggesting she is devastatingly sexy, this is fine, if unsubtle. What is not fine is the objectifying of her body. We are twice shown her undressing at night in front of a lit window. And then, on a beach outing, while the regular young Israeli women hop around awkwardly pulling off socks, Mira pauses before looking the men in the eye with that same enigmatic smile and slowly unbuttons her clothes to reveal sizzling white underwear. For reasons that are not made clear, she has control of the kibbutz’s only radio, and will only lend it out on dangerous expeditions if she can go on them. This, we are supposed to believe, is a sign of her attractive daring. Meanwhile other young women on the kibbutz are given slender threads of stories until more or less everyone is paired off.

The battle itself is exciting, if rather hard to follow. Indeed the larger political issues remain opaque. It has never been made clear why this small kibbutz is such an important target for the Egyptians, and why a huge convoy of tanks and weaponry, plus vast aircraft are needed to capture it.

Image of Victory has the potential to be a good film if only Nesher could only control the narrative.

Signature Entertainment presents Image of Victory on Digital Platforms 23rd May.

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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