The Convenient Truth

in 60th Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival

by Madhu Eravankara

The much debated philosophy of ‘existentialism’ argues that for man ‘existence precedes essence’. For any of the objects they have an ‘essence’ before their existence. A pen, for example, is well defined before its manufacture; its use, its nature, its shape and everything. But look at man! Whatever he becomes, the sole responsibility is vested on him. It is unpredictable what happens to him in the next moment. Here is the story of a group of people with their varied existence caught in the web of existential trauma in a world of uncertainty and entropy of the highest order. Dusk (Bein Hashmashot), the film from Israel written and directed by Alon Zingman thus dwells on the intricate hours of a few ordinary souls at the crossroads of life, carried away by the forces of nature, ending up in tragic notes of disastrous illusions.

Dusk has four different stories to convey, which have no inter-connection on the primary level. However, on a secondary level, they do have connections, well fabricated through a series of incidents leading to fatal endings. Surprisingly, the spectators never feel like listening to various stories but they travel along regardless.

The characters of the different stories are introduced in the first sequence itself: Alex is waiting in the airport to welcome back his dearest daughter Oshri, who returns from abroad after studies; Nine-year-old Rafa and his young mother are preparing to go to a hospital in the city; Hava is tired after a double-shift in the duty free shop at the airport; Dr. Amos comes out of the operation theatre after a hectic and tiresome schedule.

Alex is overwhelmed to see Oshri after a long time. While driving back home Oshri talks with her mother and she is also happy to meet her. But her happiness is short-lived. Their car drives into a woman cyclist and Alex flees the scene of the accident, in spite of Oshri’s continued plea to stop the car and rescue the victim. Oshri’s mood is unexpectedly spoiled and she finds herself terribly disturbed even in the company of her mother, sisters or fiancé. She is all the more concerned to go to the hospital where the victim is admitted. Later she visits the hospital and waits in the corridor as a desolate figure, as if taking the responsibility for the accident.

The boy Rafa, an immigrant from Argentina is visiting the hospital in the city where his mother wants him to be circumcised by a doctor. The mother hands over to Rafa a fake letter written by his father and presents him a Formula 1 toy car supposed to be sent from his father in Argentina. The doctor insists on the consent of his Argentinean father, but the mother makes excuses. She tries to seduce the doctor and understanding the helplessness of the single parent he finally agrees. When the mother is after the doctor to persuade him for the circumcision, Rafa meets an ailing 14-year-old Tamar, a cancer patient. Tamar takes Rafa on an adventurous trip through the labyrinth of the hospital. An unusual friendship develops between the two and Rafa realizes the truth about his parents and the Formula 1 toy car.

Hava is so stressed that she doesn’t get time to look after her only daughter, who is usually left at her mother’s house. She waits to get a marriage certificate in an office but, by the time she acquires it, it is too late for her daughter Gili to go to school. She is too eager to get information on a woman called Dahlia Cohen which has something to do with her ‘adoption file’. Dahlia Cohen happens to work in a beauty salon and she follows her to the salon. Hava and Gili get their hair done but the hair dresser receives the message of the tragic accident of her only daughter. Hava offers to take her to the hospital where the girl is admitted. She reaches the hospital only to receive the shocking and painful message.

And the fourth story is about an elderly police officer Amir Yadin who happened to be at the accident site. Hearing that the girl has already been taken to the hospital, he rushes to the hospital where his son Amos is practicing as a doctor. Amir and Amos are not on good terms and Amir tries in vain to reestablish his relationship with his son.

The four stories take place simultaneously, but are not connected internally. Chances bring the characters together and an external connection is brought about in a magical way. The director-cum-screenwriter has woven the fabric of this unusual account of the contemporary everyday life in Israel in subtle terms in contemplation with the universal psyche. He allows the incidents to evolve in its own course and follows the characters with love and compassion.

Tamir is the most outstanding character in the movie. He has nothing to care for in his life. His death is imminent. He seems not to be afraid of death. He talks to Rafa as if he is welcoming death at any time. He is too adventurous and enjoying each and every remaining part of the short span of life. He takes the boy to an adventurous trip and casually discloses to him the real truth about his father. He convinces the boy that the racing toy car is made in China and is imported by the trader to Israel. This shatters all Rafa’s dreams of his father and his love towards him within seconds. Tamar, who takes death casually, is actually caught in the trauma of death for a few moments when he accidentally falls to the edge of the tunnel. We understand his real love towards life. It seems that he also conveniently builds up an aura that he is not at all afraid of death.

The film unfolds a lot about the nature of truth. There are two types of truth, the real absolute truth and the convenient truth. Most of the characters in Dusk resort to the convenient truth. Alex, who commits the accident, hides it knowingly for his convenience sake. He wants to avoid all the complications that may arise out of the real truth. Rafa’s mother also hides the real truth from her son in order to make him happy. She presents him a toy car as if sent by his father. She desires that for Rafa his father should exist. She accepts the convenient truth to make things simple and easy. She does not admit the real truth of the inexistent father of Rafa to the doctor either. But the clever doctor extracts the real truth.

As man grows up he learns how to hide truth and accept a convenient stand to suit each and every person as the situation demands. Rafa, Tamar and Oshri do not fear the real truth. They never take a stand of convenient truth as they are yet to travel on the path of life. For them there is only one truth, the absolute truth. It is sad to note that the acceptance of real truth always make them unhappy too.

A well-knitted script, with subtle visual expressions, Dusk speaks of the great philosophies of life and death. The shots are so beautifully blended that the fast cutting produces an extraordinary tone and rhythm which many of the films we see of this type often lack. Framed almost constantly in medium to close-up shots, the film has an appeal on our emotions as well as intellect. The writer-director Alon Zingman states, ”A good film is one that stores a great truth in it, even if it is layered with fabrications in order to express it”. Yes, Dusk has a lot of truth and humanism in it which affects us positively with a universal appeal akin to our day to day life irrespective of time and space.