Insert Comma logo
Insert Comma • A Portfolio of Leigh E. Rich
‘Time of Favor’
Categories: Film, Utrinque Paratus

Denver International Film Festival

By Leigh E. Rich

In light of the Sept. 11 attacks and the now year-long strife between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East, Israeli film Time of Favor couldn’t be more temporally poignant. In rather understated and inventive ways, writer and director Joseph Cedar broaches the delicate topic of suicide bombing through his love-triangle tale set in a West Bank settlement.

Cedar gets his message across, and tables many ethical questions and considerations about both inner-conflict and fearing the “enemy,” however, without depicting war, as in Saving Private Ryan or Apocalypse Now. Instead, he uses a domestic love story and a small cast of Israeli characters—a yeshiva (religious school) student, an army unit commander, an attractive daughter, and an impassioned, fanatical rabbi who overshadows them all—to serve as the vehicle for his grander statement, a commentary on the concept of “l’shma” or to act “for the sake of God’s name.”

According to Michal, Rabbi Meltzer’s daughter who, like a Shakespearean heroine, understands the complexities and difficulties of life far beyond her counterparts, Meltzer cares more about the settlement than his own family. He inspires his students with the tactics of a zealot: “Whoever is not willing to give up his life, whoever does not know that sometimes a dead lion is more living than a live dog, will stay a dog.” But when chaos sprouts from his sermons in the crazed plans of his brightest pupil, Pini, the good rabbi fails to take responsibility for them.

As a suicidal Pini awaits beneath the Temple Mount—a sacred place and a continuing contention for both Jews and Muslims—with 40 kilograms of explosives stolen from an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) battalion, Meltzer continues to deny that his followers would do anything of the sort: “Maybe what I say sounds radical, but my students know how to interpret it.”

One of Meltzer’s acquaintances, an Israeli Secret Service agent sent to defuse the situation, calls the rabbi’s bluff: “For years now you’ve been feeding them ‘Temple, Temple, Temple,’ finally a few students go ahead and do something about it. People listen to you. … You don’t need explosives for an idea.”

But this storyline is only a subplot in Time of Favor, albeit Cedar’s main objective. The reckless Pini finds his way down this violent and imprudent path because of his blind faith in Meltzer’s preaching—both in the yeshiva and in Pini’s personal life, urging the young student to court Michal, as she says, as if she were her father’s prize to hand out to the latest star student.

Michal, on the other hand, falls in love with Menachem, a friend of Pini’s and the new commander of Meltzer’s recently-organized military unit. A born yet immature leader, Menachem at first backs down from the brewing conflicts with Rabbi Meltzer and Pini and, thus, out of his betrothal promise to Michal. Somehow logical in Pini’s mind, Michal’s rejection and Menachem’s betrayal urge him to act according to, as he pervertedly sees it, “l’shma.”

Cedar is careful to present a less radical depiction of “l’shma” in Itamer, a character who, though he doesn’t think for himself either, is more ignorant than culpable. Itamer is just another victim in Pini’s “righteous” plan.

Cedar also raises the issue of faith versus doubt. While Michal sees through the rhetoric and egos inundating the settlement—“It’s pathetic. Everyone idolizes each other here,” she says—Time of Favor explores Menachem’s inner-journey toward a self-thinking, moral man, and Pini is exposed for his true colors. “You’re doing this because you’re a selfish, small-minded man,” Menachem reprimands him.

In the end, Cedar’s quality storytelling drives his point home: “Stop being so sure of yourselves or you’ll cause the biggest bungle this country’s ever seen.” 

Rich, L. E. (2001, October 17). ‘Time of Favor.’ CU-Denver Advocate.

Comments are closed.