At the end of Naomi Levari's film, Draft, a father runs through town to say goodbye to his son who has been drafted by the Israeli army and has left while the father was sleeping. The bus going to the military barracks leaves just as the father reaches the terminal. As it drives off the son edges his way to its rear window in order to wave. And in the few seconds in which they catch a glimpse of each other, the son - in the eyes of the father - undergoes a transformation from young man to small child.
This article aims at interpreting this crucial moment in the light of an analysis of a number of significant elements in Draft as a whole. For the meaning of the scene is by no means self-evident and any interpretation of the film must deal with such questions as: How is the ending to be understood? To what extent does the transformation tell us anything about the son? To what extent about the father?
A narrative pattern
The transformation itself visually stresses that the father does not see all things the way they actually appear. But is the image of the son as a child more or less emotionally true than the image of the young man looking out of the rear window of the speeding bus? It is of course a mental image, and therefore the question can be said to be beside the point. Yet a certain narrative pattern seems to justify it. For the father has once before had difficulties identifying his own son, Guy.
Halfway through the film he tries to find him in the downtown maze of disco tracks and neon lights. He catches up with him in a dark alley, but finds that he has mistaken somebody else for him. That the two incidents mirror each other is underlined by the fact that even the movements involved are similar. In both cases, the father turns around and runs after either the stranger or the bus as he or it passes him on the left. Seen in the light of this incident, the final scene appears to be a recurring case of mistaken identity. In other words the father has for some reason problems seeing Guy as he is.
The beginning of the film is puzzling. Familiar roles appear to be reversed. The father listens to rock music on the car stereo, makes his fried eggs look like a smiley, turns his back on his son as he comes home with groceries and obligingly asks if they weren't supposed to dine together, and then slams the door as he retreats to his (untidy) room. The scene suitably ends in a fade to black (the only one in the film), suggesting that the film so far (i.e. the first 2 minutes) is to be seen as an introduction of sorts. But since it is bewildering rather than clarifying, the purpose of the opening is clearly to confuse the spectator and thereby make him aware of the chaos and complexity of the relationship between the two characters portrayed.
The two of them live alone together, but whereas Guy is never seen unless in a scene with the father, the latter is seen on his own several times. Regarding the length, frequency, as well as the variety of shots including the father, his screen time is far more extensive than that of the son. Draft evidently tells us the parent's story.
Two types of images
Two types of images abound in the film: those of stagnation (including both characters) and those of solitude (including only the father).
Notice in the above examples of the first type the foregrounding of the father in the compositions. He dominates the images, as he is the focus of the story. Notice also the confining frames made by doorways and walls. These are stagnant, claustrophobic, yet tensely dramatic variations on the visual account of the selfsame relationship. An emotional checkmate, so to speak.
In these images of the father, darkness underlines the sense of solitude, which nonetheless is most poignantly evident in the last, long, naturally lit shot (showing us the exhausted father from the rear of the speeding bus). In his attempt to reach his son, the father, it seems, has broken away from his former confinement of darkness and claustrophobic withdrawal - only to find himself more alone than ever before. Therefore the ending of the film has a fixed sense of closure. Any sense of open-endedness is retrospective: How is this to be understood with regard to the scenes seen before it? What has caused this apparently irreparable separation? This great hurt?
An auditory theme
At the very beginning of the film we hear the sound of the car stereo while the camera is located beside the father inside his car. As the vehicle drives up to and parks in front of the father's apartment, our view shifts to the outside. But strangely the sound of the radio is much louder in this shot than in the previous one.
This displacement or shifting of inner and outer actual spaces, is seen once again later on in the film when the father watches Guy being picked up by some friends in a car. The pitch of the techno music coming from the car stereo is the same, regardless of whether the car door is open or closed.
In both scenes we are evidently beyond the interests of the factual. These are unrealistic sound designs made to emphasize a mental stance, more precisely the father's unbalanced state of mind. That something is actually wrong with the sound in the scenes mentioned becomes an auditory metaphor for a similar mental imperfection regarding the central focus of the film, namely the father.
That he is feeling out of balance and even out of place is further underscored by the use of music in the film. A certain piece played by solo piano is connected to the father as a theme. The sad melody is heard for the first time as he is seen sitting alone on a park bench (his misery underlined as he is left by a stray dog and furthermore finds himself unable to light his cigarette). After he starts crying the shot is followed by a series of urban images: empty streets, deserted squares. The theme is heard once again later on as a discordant (and quite harrowing) response to Guy's provocative attempt to get his father to join him in singing the Israeli peace song.
A similar use of contrasting musical pieces is heard when the close-ups of the father seeking Guy in the downtown nightlife are accompanied by Joni Mitchell's moody song River, played as a contrast to the frantically fast techno beats and underlined by the use of slow motion.
However, the nature of the father's solitude cannot yet be fully understood.
A visual motif
The most significant shot in the film appears in the last scene before the father wakes up and finds that Guy is gone. It shows us the father's sorrowful face reflected upon the portrait of a young woman, which partially eclipses the photo of a little boy.
The boy in the photograph (standing in the shadow of the portrait of the woman) is later to be seen behind another sort of glass, i.e. the rear window of the bus. The woman, on the other hand, is never seen nor mentioned but in her portrait. Considering the nature of the portrayed family as well as the emotional distress of the father while viewing the photograph, it seems obvious that the woman in the picture is the missing wife or lover, yet the consequent omission of any mention of a mother is of course painfully expressive.
The image has been seen once before: immediately after the fade to black, following the bewildering beginning of the film. Being more easily visible - but not yet readily relevant - it functions as a sort of set-up, making the later image understandable as a visual pay-off. One may note that the child in this early image is far less engulfed by the shadow of the frame containing the mother's portrait.
The later image is crucial. It is the core of the film. Not only because it offers a meaningful context in which the solitude of the father and the dispute between him and his son can be understood. It also constitutes a concentration of the conflict in the film, a distillate of the drama, a visual mise-en-abyme.
The title of the film turns out to be misleading. Clearly this is not a film about 'a selection for military service'. It seems more reasonable to think of "draft" in terms of 'a preliminary sketch' since this correlates perfectly with the film's interest in the portrayal of a father, who himself has an insufficient impression of his son.
One could even continue this interpretive wordplay and suggest that the title also could be understood as referring to 'a current of air in an enclosed space', signifying the absence of the mother as a breach causing the relationship between the two remaining family members to chill and freeze.
At any rate I find the conflict in Draft to be psychological rather than political at its core. The conflicting views of the two characters can never to be fully understood outside the tense constellation of a disillusioned father and his idealistic son. The heated debates between the two, the ongoing game of putting up and pulling down pro Israeli stickers, as well as the misbegotten peace song duet, play more as private, interpersonal quarrels than as politically meaningful statements explored within the narrative.
Throughout the film the father's ongoing attempts to repair a radio receiver function as a clear symbol of communicative difficulties. Surely it is significant that by the time the radio is working, Guy has left.
"We are killing our own children" a radio host quotes at the very beginning of the film while covering a recent military-related tragedy in Eilat (whereupon the father swiftly switches to a channel playing rock music instead). Within the logic of the film even this statement primarily becomes an expression of the lack of fundamental understanding and communication between the supposedly like-minded, the family members; an expression which might then - and only then (i.e. after being perceived as a private, emotional problem) - be understood and reacted upon as a political appeal.
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