Policeman, The (1971): Kishon’s Israeli Satire of Naive, Inept Patrolman, Best Foreign Language Oscar Nominee

From Our Vaults:

Satirist Ephraim Kishon (Sallah) wrote and directed The Policeman (Hebrew: “HaShoter Azoulai,” ’The Policeman Azoulay'”, featuring popular comedian Shaike Ophir in one of his finest performances.

Widely considered to be a classic of early Israeli cinema, The Policeman was nominated for the 1971 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, winning the Golden Globe Award in that category.

Officer Avraham Azoulay (Ophir), a patrolman in the district of Jaffa, is an honest man, though extremely naive. Due to his deficient character, he has never been promoted during his 20 years of service.

He is married to a dull woman (vet actress Zaharira Harifai), and the couple have no children.

Though they feel sorry for him, his superiors, Captain Levkovich and First Sergeant Bejerano, decide not to renew his contract,

In the meantime, he falls in love with a simple but charming prostitute Mimi, and decides to remove her photo from the arrests billboard. When his wife finds the photo, she tears it to pieces, but Azoulay secretly glues together again.

Nevertheless, Azoulay refuses to divorce his wife, claiming “It will destroy her.” In addition, being a Kohen, he cannot marry a prostitute according to Halakha.

Azoulay succeeds at dispersing a demonstration without resorting to violence because of his knowledge of the Bible and of Yiddish; he also charms a group of visiting French policemen who adore the French-speaking policeman; in an Arab-speaking club house he gives an unaware speech in Arabic.

Azoulay is able to see people for what they are and not what they represent. None of these events, however, help change his superiors’ decision to dismiss him.

Azoulay then forms a friendship with Amar, unaware that he is a notorious criminal. The criminal and associates fake a crime and allow Azoulay to catch them so that he can get promotion and regain his contract. They decide upon stealing ritual objects, including a large golden cross, from a monastery in the neighbourhood.

Azoulay catches the criminal in the act and is finally promoted to the rank of a sergeant, but his contract is not renewed and he is forced to retire from the police.

In the last scene, Officer Azoulay leaves the precinct with his new rank. The final shot shows Azoulay saluting the marching policemen–thinking they salute him, his eyes are filled with tears.

Oscar Context:

The Policeman competed for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar with The Garden of the Finzi-Continis from Italy (which won); Dade’s Ka-Den from Japan; The Emigrants from Sweden; and Tchaikovsky from the U.S.S.R.

Shaike Ophir as Constable Sgt. Abraham Azoulay
Zaharira Harifai as Betty Azoulay
Avner Hizkiyahu as Capt. Lefkowitch
Itzko Rachamimov as Senior Sgt. Bejerano
Yosef Shiloach as Amar
Nitza Saul as Mimi
Gabi Amrani as The Yemenite
Arieh Itzhak as Zion
Abraham Celektar as Cactus
Efraim Stan as Horovitz