Rather than attempt a full-scale biopic of one-time Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, writer Nicholas Martin and director Guy Nattiv (Skin, Magic Men) zero in on the incredibly tense 19 days of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, between her nation and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. The estimated dead still is unclear—some estimates have it at 8,000, others at 18,000-plus—but few leaders in history have been tasked with fighting a full-scale war from several fronts while also attempting to placate its allies (namely the United States) by attempting peace talks with the Arab nations, who had the backing of the Soviet Union. Meir proved herself to be a stable, tough yet compassionate leader who left her legacy tarnished but memorable. Golda perfectly captures these few days and all the machinations that went into ending this conflict as quickly as possible.
An almost unrecognizable Helen Mirren (under flawlessly realized makeup) plays Meir, who was secretly receiving treatment for a lymphoma diagnosis (which wasn’t helped in any way by the fact that she smoked like a chimney; she died about five years after the events in this film) during this period. Despite giving the impression and image of a little old lady, Meir was a fearsome diplomat, although she claimed she wasn’t much for making wartime decisions and strategy. Therefore, she fully trusted her advisers such as Moshe Dayan (Rami Heuberger); head of the Mossad Eli Zeira (Dvir Benedek); and even her friend and then-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber), whose Jewish roots made the fate of Israel something of a personal crusade, even as his boss Richard Nixon was on the verge of being taken down by the Watergate scandal.
Most of Golda is set in the halls of Israeli power, with Meir receiving constant updates from her cabinet, making decisions that would impact the lives of many soldiers and their families. The framework of the film is a hearing in which a panel of some sort is listening to Meir tell the story of those 19 days to decide whether she made any mistakes that could have resulted in thousands more dying than needed to. But as she navigates insurmountable odds, it’s clear that, while she may doubt some decisions she made, she never acted irrationally or selfishly.
I especially liked the quieter moments of Golda, when she talks with her assistant and friend Lou Kaddar (Camille Cottin), who was one of the few people who knew about her ailment. Their conversations felt like Meir giving herself a reality check, just to make certain she never forgot the human costs of this war. Also in her offices is a young secretary with a loved one on one of the frontlines. For Meir, bringing that soldier home was a top priority, even if she had little say in the matter. Director Nattiv turns this very personal story into a tense thriller at times, but also manages to tell a very intimate tale about a woman who wanted to be the best leader for her country but also be accepted as an authority figure of a nation that some other nations refused to acknowledge as legitimate. The complexity of her position was unique to the region, the times, and history, and the film captures that with a large degree of success.
The film is now playing in theaters.
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