CAPSULE: Valerie Harper plays Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel in a one-actor play by William Gibson. Golda Meir in retirement reminisces about her life, the history of Israel, and the most important decision she ever had to make. The film is powerful and well-acted even if there are stylistic glitches in the presentation. Jeremy Kagan directs. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Films that have been willing to look at the Middle East conflicts from Israel's perspective have been increasingly rare over the years. But if anyone in Israeli history can be said to be remembered fondly by the world it is the Russian-born, American-raised, Golda Meir. She was the Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974, back when female world leaders were an extreme rarity. With her outwardly grandmotherly appearance she led Israel through some of its greatest crises. William Gibson, who wrote the plays "Two for the Seesaw" and "The Miracle Worker", each a classic of the American stage, also wrote "Golda's Balcony", a one-actor play that looks into the heart of the likable, angry, and occasionally fierce woman who was Golda Meir. The film is directed by Jeremy Kagan who previously directed HEROES, THE BIG FIX, and THE CHOSEN.
The setting of the film is simply what the title says. Golda Meir is in retirement, secretly near to death, remembering her life, the short history of the state of Israel, and the most terrifying days of her life during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Her mind flits from one to the other telling all three stories.
Meir is deeply troubled at the course her life has taken and specifically with the irony the desire to improve the world had given her power, but the responsibility of that power is the defense of her country and that self-defense ultimately leads to killing. She likens it to a pot of soup--a positive thing, but at the bottom of the pot there is blood. Note that in the rules of Kosher the presence of even the tiniest drop of blood makes the whole pot of soup inedible. Just a little evil destroys all the good. Meir sees her dilemma as being what inevitably happens when idealism becomes power. It destroyed her personal life and forced her to order killing.
In the stage play Meir tells her stories dramatically recounting and taking all the parts. For example, in an exchange with David Ben-Gurion, Meir will say what she said and then gives an impression of Ben-Gurion responding. The film takes this a step further by compositing images. So we can see two or three (or more) Valerie Harpers on screen at the same time. One may be Valerie Harper doing Golda Meir; one may be Valerie Harper doing Golda Meir doing David Ben-Gurion. She has a different stature and voice, but occasionally it becomes momentarily difficult to tell who is speaking. To add to the visual confusion the background is generally newsreel footage of the incidents she is discussing. Sometimes the background is visually altered into stepped gray-scales. Kagan probably realized that something needed to be done to make the background interesting, but his choices were less than ideal.
Still, Harper's versatility shines through in her playing dozens of characters from a little boy in Russia, to her husband, to world leaders, and to a Holocaust survivor who herself had to make a terrible choice. It is an amazing feat for her to wear the Golda Meir makeup and still make herself look and sound like Henry Kissinger. This is a performance full of such little wonders.
GOLDA'S BALCONY is a powerful and moving portrait of the life and crises of Golda Meir. It is a film that deserves to be experienced and remembered. I rate it a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0860418/
A side note here: Jeremy Kagan, who directed GOLDA'S BALCONY, is also the director of THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN. This is my personal choice for one of the finest and most under-appreciated family films ever made. The story is of a young teenage girl who is forced to travel from Chicago to Washington State on her own with very little money during the height of the Great Depression. THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN and GOLDA'S BALCONY are two films that deserve to be seen and remembered.
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper