It is so informative to watch the Israeli film Kippur, and then the American movie Defiance. Both show Jews fighting for their lives in very different contexts.
Kippur is a low budget Israeli film that depicts soldiers whose task it is to retrieve the wounded during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Without the large budget and the significant expectations of making a major profit, Kippur unfolds quickly, but smartly. We see soldiers struggling to make sense of a chaotic battle. We see their exhausted faces, their clipped and incoherent speech, their fear, and dogged but exhausted spirit. In one scene, the team tries in vain to carry a wounded soldier in a stretcher through a mud caked field in the Golan Heights. They are filthy and exhausted.
Defiance depicts the life of Jewish partisan fighters in Belorussia. A trio of brothers leads the band, who in the process of fighting the Germans, also save a significant number of women and children from the Nazi death machine. The film is based on a true story. There are scenes depicting suffering, hunger, brutality, but it is all within a rather safe range. Hope and despair needed to be handed out unevenly, with a heavy lean toward hope, the film makers seem to say. We can never handle seeing war from the flat, exhausting angle of Kippur. Could an American audience sit through ten minutes of men struggling to get out of waist deep mud?
The film they make implies we can’t. So we get speeches, heroics, pain that can be overcome, and most of all, we are not allowed to despair too much. The rather clumsy allusions to the partisan leader as Moses (he leads the band across a Sea of Reeds to escape the Germans!) shows us that there is no need to fall into despair. We can climb through any muck and mire to redemption. When watching a movie, Defiance tells us, it is important for us to not feel too bad.