"The Policeman Azoulay"
"The Policeman Azoulay" is an Israeli comedy-drama film written and directed by Ephraim Kishon in 1971. This film marked Kishon's departure from his usual satirical style and received both critical acclaim and commercial success. It was even submitted as Israel's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as several other prestigious awards at film festivals.
"The Policeman Azoulay" tells the story of Abraham Azoulay, portrayed by Shaike Ophir, a police officer in Jaffa. Throughout his twenty-year service in the police force, Azoulay remains a simple constable due to his recurring failures in performing routine patrol tasks. These failures are a result of his innocence and kind-hearted nature. Azoulay cannot discern the crimes happening under his watch, struggles with making arrests due to his compassionate nature, and tends to believe the false stories told by the criminals he encounters.
Azoulay's constant failures lead his station commander, Inspector Pekopitch (played by Avner Hizkiyahu), and his immediate supervisor, Sergeant Ben-Zerno (played by Itzhak Rachamimov), to conclude that his contract should not be renewed, despite their fondness for him. Meanwhile, Azoulay falls in love with a streetwalker named Mimi (played by Nitza Shaul). Azoulay secretly keeps a picture of Mimi in his wallet.
Azoulay is married to Betti (played by Zahrira Harifai), a chronically ill woman who cannot bear children. Their relationship resembles that of a mother and son more than that of a husband and wife. Betti finds Mimi's picture and tears it up in frustration, but Azoulay secretly tapes it back together. During this time, Azoulay daydreams about summer wedding moments with Mimi.
When Inspector Pekopitch hints to Azoulay that he is facing dismissal, Azoulay desperately tries to achieve something that would save his career. He is determined to present a heroic act to Pekopitch, involving a bag of pastries for Betti, his wife. Unbeknownst to Azoulay, a group of local criminals, led by Aamer (played by Yosef Shiloach), decide to involve him in a crime scheme that they believe will ultimately lead to his dismissal, saving their own skins.
Despite Azoulay's innocence and naiveté, he eventually manages to "foil" the criminal plan, earning the respect of his peers and superiors for the first time in his career. While his contract is not renewed, he is promoted two ranks as a token of appreciation. Although Azoulay does not continue his career in the police force, he leaves with a higher pension.
The film's closing scene is considered one of the most emotionally stirring moments in Israeli cinema. Azoulay walks out of the police headquarters with Betti, Albert, and Meshi, and stops near the cadets practicing drill under Ben-Zerno's command. As they pass by, the cadets salute Azoulay. Azoulay, moved by the gesture of recognition and respect, salutes them back with tears in his eyes.
Shaike Ophir portrays Azoulay as a man with no direction in life, trapped in an unhappy marriage and constantly under pressure. He reluctantly learns the rules of the game through which people advance in life. Azoulay shows an ability to communicate with people from all walks of life, demonstrating his mastery of multiple languages when necessary.
The film portrays a pessimistic worldview, where Kishon distinguishes between "advancing in life" and the destruction of others. Azoulay cannot reconcile himself with this concept and prefers to patrol the streets at night as a simple constable, as it allows him to find solace in human interaction. His punishment is being thrown off the only life path available to him.
Ephraim Kishon contemplated creating a sequel in which Azoulay becomes a taxi driver and later returns to the police force.
"The Policeman Azoulay" was widely distributed internationally under the title "The Policeman." It was first screened in the United States in October 1971.
In 1997, the Israeli Educational Television program "HaKol Anashim" dedicated an episode to Shaike Ophir's portrayal of Azoulay. In the third season of the Israeli TV series "Kupa Rashit," Nissim Karras's character tries to save a supermarket security guard from being fired, using the story of Shaike Ophir's Azoulay as inspiration.
Shaike Ophir reprised his role as Azoulay in a commercial for Discount Bank. Years after his death, a new commercial featuring Modi Bar-On and Israel Katorza paid homage to Ophir's portrayal of Azoulay without authorization from the production company, leading to legal action.
In October 2009, a theatrical adaptation of the film was staged at "HaBima" theater, starring Moni Moshonov as Azoulay. The adaptation was written by Daniel Lefin and directed by Micha Levinson, featuring a talented cast.
"The Policeman Azoulay" remains a classic of Israeli cinema, celebrated for its humor and poignant portrayal of a kind-hearted character in a world of cynicism and complexity.
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