Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Operation Sunflower

It's a matter of faith among some that Israel has The Bomb. Part of Middle Eastern brinksmanship seems to be intimating that you have horrible weapons and daring your enemies to come discover the truth (cf. Assad, Hussein).

This movie begins with a coy denial that Israel has the bomb—well, the phrase used is something like "Israel has decided it will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East", which is kind of a classic non-denial denial. It doesn't say that they don't have them, only that they wouldn't be the first to use them.

Anyway, after the denial (with which the movie also closes), we get a framing story of a young Jewish man in Israel who's trying to get his mother to work up some sort of anxiety over an incoming Iranian (?) nuclear attack, and she's not concerned.

The movie proper is the story of her brother, the nuclear physicist who helped Israel develop The Bomb. It's the story of an obsessed Mossad chief, his "secretary" (who's actually more like his heavy), peace-loving Jewish hippies who are goaded and tricked into helping (when they're not being killed to protect the secret), and a semi-incompetent France that is determined to get the bomb but doesn't actually have the smarts.

There's this precious song the young college physicists sing about peace with the Arab Muslims that is as preposterous as it would be fatal if anyone took it very seriously. (Of course, these youngsters are deadly earnest.) Just as radical folk music that's dopey in America becomes a lot more relevant when you transplant it to South Africa, pacifist anthems become a lot less idyllic and dreamy and more suicidal when to transplant them to Israel.

Anyway, this short-ish movie (90 minutes) has a kind of rabbinical story feel to it, which gives it a certain charm, though The Boy was somewhat underwhelmed.

The plot is really the template of a spy thriller, yet the movie engages in few of the spy thriller tropes. There's no suspense to speak of. When the Israelis start eating their own to protect the secret, you'd almost qualify it as "unpleasant" rather than the shocking betrayal it is.

Also, the mother is supremely calm throughout, so you know there's never really any danger.

So, where I'd put it in the positive column, anyone expecting a suspenseful action/thriller would be disappointed. And it is kind of an odd thing to say "Well, it's a story of intrigue and how a tiny country handled its existential crisis by getting the Ultimate Weapon, but it's pretty low-key."

Yet it is, and I didn't mind particularly. Shot simply but well enough, with acting that seemed fairly natural.

One thing noted frequently was that the Israelis had to hide their research from the US, lest the US shut them down. I guess we didn't want everyone getting The Bomb but that still sort of surprised me.

Anyway, a happy ending (telegraphed from the start) to this entirely fictional (kaff) story.

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