Sunday, 27 July 2014

Review: Prisoners of War (Hatufim) Season 2

Written and directed by Gideon Raff, Prisoners of War, after much campaigning and an online #BringBackHatufim campaign, finally returns to the UK for a hotly anticipated second season. Prior to shooting the outstanding first series the script was acquired by the writers of 24, Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa who worked alongside Raff on the US adaptation, Homeland. The original series, set in 2008, depicts the lives of three Israeli Defence Force reservists, who were captured seventeen years ago during service on a secret mission with their unit in Lebanon.

To society and their families they are heralded as heroes and endless campaigns are set up, highlighting a demand for their return. The series begins when Uri Zach and Nimrod Klein finally return home to their families, whilst the third captive Amiel Ben-Horin comes home in a coffin adding to the distress of sibling, Yael played perceptively by Adi Ezroni. Uri (Shai Golan) bears the physical scars of his captivity and his girlfriend Nurit Halevi-Zach (Mili Avital) has moved on during his absence and married his brother Yaki (Mickey Leon). The couple also have a teenage son, Asaf and the family are initially forced to keep these major changes under wraps by an IDF psychologist until further notice. Nurit is wracked with guilt and when the truth is revealed, it leads to major complications.

Fellow captive, Nimrod Klein (Yoram Toledano) struggles in relating to his wife Talia (Yael Abecassis) who has devoted her life to fighting for her husband’s release. She, like her husband now struggles with a sense of purpose. Further complications arise when he is reunited with rebellious teenage daughter Dana (Yael Eitan) and teenage son Hatzav (Guy Selnik) who was born during his captivity. The dead soldier’s sister, Yael (Adi Ezroni) struggles to cope with her loss. The soldiers’ experience of captivity is gradually revealed through a series of disturbing flashbacks. As well as being the subject of public scrutiny the former captives now have to contend with the national hero status being thrust upon them via Israeli media. Their release raises the suspicions of Haim Cohen (Gal Zaid), an IDF psychologist convinced that there is more to the characters than meets the eye. He leads an investigation into Nimrod and Uri and enlists the help of IDF employee Iris (Sandy Bar) who develops a relationship with Uri in order to establish exactly what the former captives are hiding.

Season 2, begins only days after the first season’s finale and proceeds to unravel the shocking twist that it left us with. It’s imperative the nature of these twists is revealed or any indication of where the series is heading is given as the beauty of the series is in the gentle unwrapping of its tightly packed surprises. The season begins with the introduction of some new characters. Jonathan Uziel plays Yinon Meiri (pictured above), a man on a mission, whose father was murdered by terrorists when they burst into his school in Metula when he was a child. Also introduced are a small yet powerful Syrian community that shed some light on the flip side of the POW’s captivity.

This series, like the first is a slow-burner, less of a high-octane thriller and more of a cerebral, psychological drama. Devoid of the explosion count policy employed by its US progeny. POW works as a modern circumstantial drama, with the emphasis being on reintegration and relationships, all set beautifully against a backdrop of tumultuous politics and a contemporary Israeli landscape. For an international audience this makes for an intriguing glimpse of Israeli culture, humanising a society that the media largely portray as unfortunate statistics.

Such is the preciseness of Raff’s writing, the plot gradually becomes clear through the gentle dissipation of the dense cloud of paranoia that was formed throughout the first series. Prisoners of War’s success is down to it’s gentle pacing, the sensitive handling of the subject matter and the phenomenal cast. There is a constant battle between past and present for all of the characters involved. The former captives bring great intensity and anxiety to their roles. It’s hard to think of any other series that brings with it such intense and involving realism. Homeland most definitely doesn’t.

Secrets are long kept from the viewer which adds to a forceful impact upon their reveal. Unspoiled by commercialism and studio demands, the series is a mass of unrestricted creativity and remarkable talent and that shows in the series’ intricately sensitive composition. Prisoners of War is an absolute triumph made of tension and suspense. It’s a compassionate study of what happens to people over seventeen years, not just those held in captivity and it offers a rarely seen and incredibly interesting glimpse of contemporary Israel.

Packed with fine performances from all involved. It’s interesting to see the captives and their partners develop their roles and relationships together but most intriguing of all is further development of Yael, the bereaved sister of third captive Amiel, who is given the most emotive challenge of the series. The complexities of her character are handled beautifully by the ever watchable Adi Ezroni, who has the capacity to be the series’ biggest breakout star. Thankfully, the show’s creator has confirmed his intentions to write a third season, which cannot come quickly enough. Prisoners of War is drama in its purest and most creative form and is, in the figurative sense, much more explosive than its US counterpart.

UK DVD of Season 2 is released on July 28th 2014 Also available is the boxset of season 1&2

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