Directed by Mike Burstyn | Review by Victor EustáquioJune 10, 1967 – The Six Day War has just ended, although for many on the ground there is little certainty about the effective end to the armed conflict. On one side Israel, and on the other Egypt, Jordan and Syria, with the support of other Arab countries. The Sinai Peninsula is one of the deadliest areas for the bloody clash between the Israeli and Egyptian military forces.
It is here, in the middle of the desert, in an abandoned outpost of the United Nations, that, accidentally, two soldiers cross each other: an Israeli and an Egyptian. The second is hurt and lost. The first one is looking for his mates in a jeep and stops at the place to refuel the car and escape for a while from the scorching heat.
The war is over, but for these two men the confrontation is inevitable. They end up being prisoners from each other at the United Nations outpost. The reason is only one can come out of there alive.
It is in this scenario that Mike Burstyn, 71, leads his debut film to which he gave the title “Azimuth”. Well, as the story moves on, we can realize the director’s intention.
It is not a matter of opposing a Jew to an Arab, but of observing the behaviour of two men in the face of a limiting situation of mutual fear and struggle for survival, in the indecision between killing first so that the other does not kill him.
There is no religious or ethnic hatred, but only an inescapable boundary imposed by the different military uniforms they wear. In this sense, we would say that –
“Azimuth” is a kind of a psychological “prisoner dilemma”, which moves away from the temptation to justify or legitimize the conflict between Jews and Arabs, to victimize or demonize one of the sides. What seems to matter to Mike Burstyn is to show the brutality of war, seen from the point of view of two individuals who have nothing against each other, but mutual fear, external to themselves, because both were mobilized to fight on opposite sides.
The irony is that the war is over and the struggle for survival, which drags these two men, is nothing more than the crude and violent portrait of the logic of the reproduction of conflict.
It is surprising that, with a story that has been reduced to almost two characters and dialogues, Mike Burstyn manages to create an intense, hyper-realistic and fast-paced film, suffocating like the desert in which it is shot. With the remarkable performance of Israeli Yiftach Klein and the Egyptian Sammy Sheik, actors who had already shown in previous work their enormous versatility. A cinematic language absolutely irreprehensible, with the aesthetic option by saturation and constant movements, even when the camera moves away to contemplate from a distance the action.
“Azimuth” is a low budget film and we can realize the reason. At the outset, as a project, it had everything to be looked at with skepticism. But the end result is just remarkable and exemplary. It is for all those who wants to make their debut as a screenwriter and director at age 71.
Victor Eustáquio is an award-winning film producer and screenwriter and the Director of Calcutta International Cult Film Festival. A novelist; screenwriter; film producer and composer, Victor currently lives in Portugal and holds a BA in Political Science and a PhD in African Studies. As COO of HLC Studios, Victor coordinates the company’s various distribution strategies to maximize the value of HLC’s content across all current and emerging digital exhibition platforms.