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‘Golda’ opens in Denver, Boulder

In a few weeks, Israel will mark half a century since the Yom Kippur War, a commemoration that will bring a plethora of emotions, some contradictory.

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in Guy Nattiv’s film ‘Golda.’ (Jasper Wolf)

The human cost of the 19-day war will be among the most traumatic memories. More than 2,500 Israelis died in the conflict and nearly 9,000 were wounded. As many as 16,000 Egyptian and Syrian troops may have perished in the fighting, known in the Arab world as the Ramadan War.

Adding to the grief many Israelis feel are the anger and frustration that some continue to harbor over the conviction that many if not most of the Jewish state’s casualties may have been prevented had its leaders — starting with then Prime Minister Golda Meir — taken more seriously the scope and imminence of the smoldering Arab threat against Israel.

Israel ultimately won the war and ensured its survival against a determined enemy — and while the conflict likely paved the way for Israel’s first peace treaties with former Arab enemies a few years later — the Yom Kippur War nonetheless ushered in a new and sobering era for Israel.

The collective sense of confidence and safety Israel experienced in the wake of the Six Day War of 1967 was erased in less than three weeks in 1973. The vulnerability of the Jewish state, the deadly determination of the Arab coalition and the fact that even America could no longer be unconditionally relied upon in a crisis were among the harsh new realities Israel had to face.

This mélange of dynamics is disturbingly recreated in “Golda,” a biopic on Golda Meir’s role in the war that will open in US theaters next week, Aug. 24-25, and have a Fathom Sneak Screening at Boulder’s Cinemark Century on Wednesday, Aug. 23.

It premiered earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival and screened last month at the Jerusalem Film Festival and in Denver on the Auraria campus, near the house where Meir spent a brief period of her youth. (A starting date for “Golda” to stream on Netflix has yet to be announced.)

Meir is squarely at the epicenter of the film, with Academy Award winner Helen Mirren in the eponymous title role. The actor is predictably brilliant in a complex portrayal, conjuring a prime minister torn between her sworn duty to lead but made vulnerable by conflicting political considerations and a lack of military expertise that forced her to rely on the contradictory counsel provided by Israel’s high command.

Israeli actors Lior Ashkenazi and Rami Heuberger play IDF Chief of Staff David “Dado” Elazar and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, respectively, while Liev Schreiber portrays the pivotal role of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Mirren does a yeoman’s job conveying for viewers how stressful and arduous the experience of war must have been for Meir, forced to contend with generals with radically different views on the likelihood of a two-front Arab attack and the measures Israel should (or should not) take in response, an American administration that had grown decidedly cool toward Israel and the fact that the enemy chose Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day, as the launching point of the assault.

That Meir had to undergo radiology treatments even while the war was raging (to hold off the lymphoma that ultimately led to her death in 1978) only made her trials more daunting.

Meir’s empathy and maternal instincts are vividly drawn by Mirren, especially during the early days of the fighting, when most of the Israelis casualties took place and the possibility of a total Arab victory seemed likely.

As the fighting continued, however, and Israeli counter-assaults against the invaders gained traction, Meir’s steely resolve and clearheaded decision-making came to the fore. She could be as ferocious as she could be gentle, hence viewers see her in a wide spectrum of perspectives. They range from uncertain leader to doting grandmother to determined warrior to savvy negotiator, all dimensions of a personality that was far more complex than history has acknowledged.

Directed by Oscar-winning, Israeli born director Guy Nattiv, “Golda” is, by turns, suspenseful, terrifying, somber, touching and tragic. The film avoids simplistic explanations and veers away from the patriotic jingoism that many war movies embrace.

“Golda” acknowledges that Meir’s political career was destroyed by the war, and that she took full responsibility for both her failures and successes, which add to the historical and dramatic credibility of the film.

It is far from a feel-good portrayal, either of Meir or of the Yom Kippur War itself. Rather, it is a mature and sober examination of the harsh realities that Israel has had to face since its inception and, in different ways, continues to face today.

Copyright © 2023 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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IJN Assistant Editor | [email protected]

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