- Platform: Netflix
- Original air date: 15/02/2015
- Cast: Lior Raz, Hisham Sulliman, Shadi Ma’ari, Laëtitia Eïdo, Rona-Lee Shim’on, Netta Garti and Hanan Hillo, Itzik Cohen
- Creator: Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz
Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)
Fauda is created by Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz. Both Avi and Lior were part of the special operations unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and they drew inspiration for the series from their real-life experiences. Raz joined the military as early as 18 years and has served in the Duvdevan Unit for 20 years. He also attended Nissan Nativ Drama School in Tel Aviv where he learned acting. Avi Issacharoff, on the other hand, is a journalist with Haaretz who has reported exclusively on the Middle-eastern affairs for years. He and his cameraman were also at the receiving end of a violent Palestinian attack when they were covering a riot in Beitunia.
When men with such interesting backgrounds collaborate on a subject like “the operations of the Israel secret forces in West Coast and Gaza Strip”, it is bound to be interesting and intriguing. However, the big question was whether the series would be objective to both sides of the story or would it drown in an insatiable desire to show the Israeli cause as the only “right” amid all the wrongs.
Retired IDF soldier Doron (Lior Raz) is brought in by a senior official of the secret forces to identify a dreaded terrorist, Abu Ahmad (Hisham Sulliman), who was believed to be dead. Doron has been living a peaceful life with his wife and two kids and doesn’t want to be part of the operation. However, the soldier inside him forces him to do what needs to be done. He decides to be on the field and not just identify Abu Ahmad but also helps take him down. Things don’t go according to plan and just before he could nail the man, Abu Ahmad escapes. Thus, begins a cat and mouse chase between Abu Ahmad and Doron as they both try to get the better of the other.
The fact that Abu Ahmad is rumored to be planning a 9/11 – style attack on Israel makes it imperative for the Israeli forces to hunt him down. Doron, who was supposed to simply identify the man and be done with it, finds himself stuck with the team for good as they pursue Abu Ahmad. Obsessed with finding and finishing off what he had started, he quickly starts spiraling into an abyss and finds himself standing at crossroads between his existence and his pursuit of the elusive terrorist. Will he be able to catch Abu Ahmad? Will his family life survive? What is Abu Ahmad’s grand plan and how does he plan to execute it? These are just some of the questions that drive the narrative of Fauda.
Fauda is an exceptionally well-written series. The story moves at breakneck speed through the first season. What I loved about the writing was the fact that the writers didn’t take the audience to be stupid. There isn’t a single line of narration. There isn’t any character explanation or introduction. The proceedings introduce us to the different characters, and it is through these proceedings that we get to know their backgrounds and which side their alliances lie. There is practically nothing explained about the Israel-Palestine conflict and the makers take the viewers to be aware of the background. Even the topography is explained only through the names of the places as seen from a drone-sight view. Hence, I had to do a lot of backtracking to be on the same page with the characters and the story. It was a lot of fun in this way and it ensured that I was invested even more in the narrative since I had to work hard to understand what was happening and how it was happening.
Once the basic premise of the story is set, the drama takes center stage. There isn’t a lot of action in the story and that I believe served the story and its realistic feel very well. As the team pursues Abu Ahmad, we get to see how Doron’s personal life is falling apart. It is done in such a realistic manner that you feel for him. He is also shown falling in love with someone whom he shouldn’t be, but things turn out in a way that makes it feel like a “spur of the moment” thing. A lot is happening in terms of backend politics and negotiation between the Israelis and the various segments of Palestine like the Palestine Prevention Force, HAMAS, and the government at a different level and all of it is affecting the central narrative in some way or the other. The writing is so proficient that the viewer will not miss a thing and neither will he/she get confused with so much happening. By the end of it all, the writers bring it all home in one effective episode that ties off all the loose ends.
Since there are so many subplots, it was obvious that there would be many actors involved, and it is safe to say that every cast member has done a fantastic job. The fact that I had no priors with any of these actors made them that much more believable and effective for me in the parts that they were essaying.
Lior Raz as the protagonist, Doron is flawless. He is basically playing himself when he is depicted as a member of the secret forces. That is something that comes naturally to him. He practically champions his way through these sequences. The ones that I was apprehensive about were the dramatic sequences. Especially the ones that he was meant to share with his wife and then with the character of Dr. Shirin with whom he is evidently falling in love. He brings forth a full range of emotions and his eyes speak volumes in these portions. I just loved how his character gradually spiraled into a nearly self-destructing spree as he was weighed down by some of the things that he was forced to do to rescue a teammate. He is constantly weighed in by his failures and his performance reaches a pinnacle in the episodes leading up to a tragedy that makes him abandon everything and walk away from the chase. The organic camaraderie that he shares with the other actors and the ease with which he slips into a comfortable and affable exchange with the character of Dr. Shirin immensely contributed to making his character leaps and bounds better than what we generally expect in a series of this nature.
Hisham Sulliman as Abu Ahmad is sensational. There are just a few sequences in which we see him raise his voice and lose composure. For the rest of the duration, he is a man who is in sublime control of himself even when faced with a great personal loss. He is not the run-of-the-mills terrorist that we generally get in movies and series. He is a family man and has very relatable problems because of the path that he has chosen for himself. By doing this, the makers are able to create a formidable and yet believable and vulnerable adversary. Does this make him a good guy? Definitely not. But it does humanize him which makes the character much more real and accessible. Hisham Sulliman gets the beat of the character just right and is terrific in his rendering of the man’s emotions at key junctures. If it wasn’t for his act, Fauda would be a lot less effective.
Shadi Ma’ari plays Walid, the right-hand man and guarding angel of Abu Ahmad. He is the one who saved his life and holds the man in very high esteem. But as the series progresses, he gradually starts questioning Ahmad’s judgment and that leads to some interesting conflicts. Walid soon falls in love with another character that Abu wants to kill and that further intensifies the conflict between the two. Ma’ari brings the oddball sensibility and the childish arrogance and action of Walid to life with efficiency. Many will look at him as the glorified loser that most series these days have. However, in the end, it is his actions that affect, not just the antagonist but also the protagonist of the series. He is much more important to the series than we might have believed in the beginning.
Itzik Cohen as captain Gabi is charismatic. I just loved the scenes where he is shown interrogating various arrestees and how he goes about doing it. Laëtitia Eïdo, Rona-Lee Shim’on, Netta Garti, and Hanan Hillo portray four extremely strong female characters that are adequately crucial to the narrative. Laëtitia Eïdo plays Dr. Shirin whose swinging alliances based on how the different characters influence her at any given time affects the central story and leads to some interesting drama. Rona-Lee Shim’on’s Nurit is the only female member of the secret forces. Her character metamorphs from someone who was at best a tech-lady to a full-blown operative through the season. Netta Garti and Hanan Hillo play the wives of the protagonist and the antagonist respectively and influence the actions of their men with their emotional bearings on them. Each of these actors did a fantastic job with their respective characters.
Laëtitia Eïdo has the most screen time and she simply radiates off the screen when she must. The same Laëtitia, when in a battered state, cuts a sorry figure just as effectively. Hanan Hillo’s Nasreen makes an apt depiction of what the wives and families of the terrorists go through. She is highly affecting. Many will hate Netta Garti for the turn that her character takes and that would prove how effective she was in extracting emotions for the character. Rona-Lee Shim’on is a treat to watch for how she gradually transforms into an effective assassin and for the dynamics that she shares with the other characters.
The action sequences of Fauda are terrific. The fact that they are shot and edited in the most realistic fashion possible elevates them to a whole new level. The cinematography of the series is something that follows a distinct pattern that is in keeping with the material of this nature. However, I believe the cinematographer did a good job of capturing the raw human emotions using effective close-ups that helped us in comprehending the mental state of the men in question. The editing is on point. Be it the action sequences or simply ones involving the dramatic moments between the characters, the editing doesn’t let the speed of the narrative drop and keep the viewers engaged.
My only complaint with the series is that there are moments when you feel that the bits involving the family drama between the characters on both sides of the conflict are taking up too much time over the actual plot involving the hunt for the terrorist. While these bits are proficiently done, they still tend to make you itch for the proceedings to get back to the central plot.
Overall, Fauda is a stunning representation of the Israel-Palestine conflict in all its brutality and realism. The techniques, performances, and sheer intrigue of the story ensured that it turned out to be one of the most engrossing watches of recent times.