Delegation film by Asaf Saban

Vassilis Kroustallis review the Israeli/Polish/German drama 'Delegation' (Ha’Mishlahat) by Asaf Saban.

Three Israeli teenagers, Frisch (Yoav Bavly), Nitzan (Neomi Harari) and Ido (Leib Lev Levin), as different as close as they can be, embark on a ceremonial school trip to Nazi concentration camps in this mildly offbeat, calculatingly non-reverential coming-of-age story by Israeli director (his second feature) Asaf Saban.

For all of those Israeli teenagers, it will be their first trip to the non-national 'real' world, and (as expected) the intended trip purpose -a pilgrimage to the sites of extermination- cannot topple all personal experiences stemming from personal interactions. The insecure Frisch (who still 'needs to be laid'), the heartthrob but immature Ido, and the wisecracking but indeterminate Nitzan are the trio that navigates the nuances of friendship, jealousy, and anger -with the Shoah only being a distant experience to be grasped.

'Delegation' is a film that opens in solid, but somehow too elaborate furnishings of teenager interaction, before giving the floor to its three characters to present a more interesting portrait in the second half. It is a film about being coached (from 'Schindler's List' and 'Escape to Sobibor' screened in the coach's video menu to group sessions analyzing individual experiences), and its resistance. Frisch will slowly become the most interesting character of the three (with a spellbinding expression of wonder by Yoav Bavly), whereas Nitzan will experience her own troubles with morality and loyalty.

Whenever one of those characters stands up against another, 'Delegation' shines and reveals the instability of feelings (which are notoriously attributed to the young generation). Yet here it seems that the same uneasiness permeates the modern Israeli identity in general. Flags become the necessary prop to visit the former sites of extermination, yet Israeli youngsters are taught to keep a low profile in the big Polish city streets. Comparing impressions from different extermination camps here becomes more of a running joke -and sometimes Frisch's completely novel experience to Auschwitz is more than a joke. It is more of a sign that personal troubles are to be attended as much as group and community nightmares.

With editing that moves as easily as its protagonists from one mood to the other, and with songs that run the whole gamut from the reverential to the simple fun, 'Delegation' is a welcome exercise in putting yourself at the center. Its crowning scene still remains Frisch's encounter with 'the Other' (the Polish locals), in which simple exoticism (reciting a prayer in Hebrew) somehow looks more familiar than his grandfather's own rehearsed story on the Holocaust. Even though scrappy at times, and with more teenage angst than its characterizations would allow, 'Delegation' is a film that needs to be watched. It juxtaposes the individual with the communal in such an uneasy balance that feels real and contemporary enough.

'Delegation' had its world premiere at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival (Generation 14Plus)

Vassilis Kroustallis