Life According to Agfa complicates morality
Yoav Kosh, artist-in-residence at Colby and the cinematographer of Life According to Agfa, described the characters in director Assi Dayan’s film as “bad.” This characterization reflects the various moral indiscretions of these characters who, over course of the film, frequent the ‘Barbie,’ a fictional pub in Tel Aviv. From drug addicts to corrupt cops, they are, indeed, unscrupulous and imperfect individuals. But are they “bad”?
In an era in which cultural relativism rules, moral analysis of art is increasingly designated as a subjective endeavor. However, Life According to Agfa lends itself to this kind of analysis–that it is filmed in black and white suggests some sort of moral dichotomy.
For example Benny, the corrupt cop who at one point is crudely violating a drug dealer and at the next point, is taking Ricky, the young, hopeless, mentally disturbed woman from a kibbutz to his apartment, would seem to fall under that moral category of “bad.” Yet, when we consider that Ricky’s psychiatrist has advised her to keep company with whomever she can during the night, it becomes clear that their relationship is mutually beneficial. Benny gets laid, and Ricky is not alone. These characters are complicated.
The complex dispositions of the characters seems to undermine the simplified moral dichotomy of “good” and “bad.” Instead, over the course of the film, a hidden beauty is exposed from under the perceived cloak of imperfection. Furthermore, the beauty of the characters is magnified by the actual physical attractiveness of the actors who portray these characters.
Life According to Agfa is a film about a potential future for Israel. The characterizations of the military, the Zionists, the Arabs and the police are meant as caricatures, not authentic portrayals of the Israeli reality. As Kosh said, ‘if we continue [our current policies], then this might happen.”
Dayan’s film is meant to serve as a warning to Israelis and Palestinians. However, when this film is shown in the United States, it seems oddly out of context. Rather than internalizing the political message, the audience attempts to empathize with morally imperfect yet beautiful characters.
Indeed, you do not have to be Israeli or Palestinian to empathize with Ricky: many who have struggled with mental health issues know what its is like to fear loneliness. Moreover, many can empathize with Daniela, the young girl with a coke habit, who is planning to immigrate to the United States in order to escape her current fate for a better future.
The film’s disaffected tone cloaks some truly affected moments, which will make your heart wrench. All in all, this film challenges us to empathize with those who have foibles, in addition to informing us of the underlying cultural, political and social tensions of Israeli society – worth a watch.