How to die

The Farewell Party, or Mita Tova, its original title, is a small miracle. It takes place at a retirement home in Jerusalem, but could happen in many other places. It is about death and euthanasia, but is not a downer. It contains many heartfelt moments, but is often very funny as well. It even has the courage to feature a musical number.

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The movie works because none of the cast are over-playing their scenes, and none of the scenes stray too far away from the main story. It starts with Max, who is so ill and in pain that he wants to die. His wife Yana wants his suffering to end. Yehezkel, a friend of theirs, is a bit of an inventor; he invents a small machine out of spare parts like a bicycle chain and a digital readout. Daniel, a former veterinarian, provides the medication. Max presses a button, and within a minute, he is asleep. He won’t wake again.

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Yehezkel’s wife Levana is strictly against euthanasia, on moral principles, but also because it’s her husband supervising the procedure. Yehezkel, Yana and Daniel want to keep their machine a secret, but Levana finds out. So do others: they are approached by an old man at Max’ funeral. His wife is very sick, and would they please consider helping her? The movie tackles a few questions with great grace: to what degree is euthanasia moral – or immoral? How much self-determination is there in a dying person’s decision? How about the law? How about Elohim?

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The most powerful image is the gang standing in the corner, wearing blue rubber gloves, watching someone press the button. On the other hand, there is gentle fun in some of the scenes. The gang is meeting in the greenhouse at night, chain-smoking and discussing the loved ones they lost to cancer. Their car is stopped by a policeman who wants to book them for speeding, but has to deal with five maudlin and tearful senior citizens all at once. He thinks they just want to avoid the ticket.

The secret of the movie is in its cast: they stay themselves during the death scenes as well as the comedy. It’s refreshing to know that the end of our days can be a comfort. Mita Tova seems to claim that euthanasia is the right thing to do if it is an option at the right time. It’s up to you to determine when and if the right time has come, but think about how it affects others. In both senses of the term, you are not alone. That is a comfort as well as a responsibility.

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