Delegation focuses on a trio of high school friends during a class trip to visit historic Shoah sites in Poland prior to joining the IDF.
In America, Jewish high schoolers often get the chance to participate in the March of the Living. If I recall correctly, it’s a trip that sees students spending a week visiting Shoah sites in Europe before spending a few days in Israel. Things aren’t much different in Israel except their trips do not include a week in Israel. For Israelis, their trip comes shortly before joining the Israeli Defense Forces. Filmmaker Asaf Saban chooses to spend the focus on Frisch (Yoav Bavly), Nitzan (Neomi Harari), and Ido (Leib Lev Levin). Whatever friendship they had going into the trip will be much different after leaving. Saban’s film deals with love, friendship, and politics. Whether it is a good idea to frame this against the backdrop of the concentration camps and Shoah memorials is something I need to sleep on.
Concentration camps and memorials require a somber tone. What this means is that Asaf Saban’s script must walk a fine line. That’s not to say that embarrassing and humiliating moments don’t happen because they do. Teenagers will be teenagers and act like teenagers no matter where they are. All that just to say that there’s a moment or two where people will most certainly cringe while watching the film. Anyway, all throughout the film, their teachers tell them to be careful. Antisemitism is very bad right now and this is especially true in Europe. All throughout the film, they stress not to speak Hebrew in public or to not display anything that would mark them as Jewish. This is sad but it speaks to the current state of antisemitism.
If you’re going into the film wanting more of a focus on the Shoah, expect some disappointment. Saban focuses his film through the three teens. As such, we see what they’re going through, fights and all. Listen, you’d like to think that visiting these sites will change people, that they’ll come back as a different person. It’s not so cut and dry as one might think. I mean, you still see them visiting sites and hearing people singing songs that have since been nationalized as memorial songs. But still, the focus is less on the Shoah in as much as it is on the trio themselves.
As research, Saban went on one of the trips while he was working on the screenplay. He’d gone on the trip when he was younger but yes, they do watch Holocaust movies on the way to these somber memorial sites. Fiddler on the Roof isn’t a Holocaust film but it does touch on the pogroms against Jews, leading to a wave of immigration to the United States and elsewhere in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Likewise, Saban draws from real life with how the security officer addresses the class from the synagogue pulpit. Israelis take security very seriously and even when you think teens should be allowed to have fun, they’re told to keep a “low profile.”
Fiction films don’t have the same leeway as documentaries. As powerful as a scene could be, the filmmakers were not allowed to film at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. What a shame. Here’s what Saban has to say according to the film’s production notes:
“I think it’s mostly part of the current political power-game about who controls the narrative. It’s a pity, because these locations, these unforgettable images carry so much power. When you are there, it feels like you are entering a whole new territory: you are not allowed to smoke, you have to go through strict security measures. We had many challenges regarding what we were allowed to show. I found it both fascinating and frustrating.”
The fact that Delegation touches on the Shoah is something that piqued my interest. Honestly, I wanted to hear more from Yosef (Ezra Dagan) about his story of surviving the Shoah. I mean, you have a scene where he is speaking and Saban immediately cuts to the students partying. Whether it’s Europe or Israel, students will be students. Even though I was older than these students are in the film, I still remember my nights partying in the evenings at the hotel during my Birthright Israel trip back in 2007. Some things just do not change! In any event, the film combines elements of both road trip and coming-of-age films. It is not the traditional film when it comes to Holocaust representation. The trip to Poland should come as a shocking experience to these students and yet, it does not hit at the emotional level that one expects.
Delegation isn’t the traditional Holocaust film and maybe that’s a good thing.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Asaf Saban
CAST: Yoav Bavly, Leib Lev Levin, Neomi Harari, Ezra Dagan, Alma Dishy
Delegation (Ha’Mishlahat) holds its world premiere during the 2023 Berlin Film Festival in the Generation 14plus program. Grade: 4/5
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