As I hunker down into my bunker and ride out the coronavirus scare, I find some comfort in re-visiting a film I saw a few years ago called “Azimuth,” Mike Burstyn’s 2017 opus to conflict during the final days of the Six Day War.
“Azimuth” opens with a shell-shocked Egyptian soldier (played by Sammy Sheik) stumbling among the bombed-out wreckage of what’s left of his unit. The lone survivor of an Israeli air attack, he picks through the remains of his comrades and searches for anything that can enable his survival in the harsh Sinai desert. He is alone in a vast, dry unknown and not aware of the breaking news of a ratified cease-fire.
At the same time, a broken-down Israeli military convoy sends one soul out into the desert to find aid. With the only instruction of “follow the tire marks,” the young soldier (played by Yiftach Klein) follows a path obscured by the shifting sands of the wind-blown Sinai. Both wind up in the same place — a derelict UN outpost where each occupies his own floor in the two-story ramshackle building, directed there by fate and locked into a futile battle that was unknowingly made moot by the surrender, ending the war.
Burstyn’s film has stayed with me, and now it seems more relevant than ever. “Azimuth” makes painfully obvious that the isolation of war is a pandemic where social distancing is as much symptom as it is a preventative measure. The outpost provides a three-dimensional edifice of social distancing, with each soldier battling a hidden enemy, obscured only by the floor that separates them.
Our perceived enemies are usually hidden. Either behind a joystick and monitor in a Nevada flight-ops bunker, controlling weaponized drones, or lurking in the morning breath of your significant other – ready to make the jump to decimate your pulmonary system. Leave it to the talent of a filmmaker like Burstyn to create a military pas de deux that is evocative of the isolation that has dogged our existence.
I won’t spoil the movie’s ending, but it is as satisfying as an all-clear after a COVID-19 swab. At the very least, it gave me hope that I needed to see the whole film again. Understanding our enemy instead of defeating it will be our saving grace.