Can you tell me how the idea for this story came to you? Was it inspired by any specific people you know?
In general, military service is a very dominant part of life in Israel, a state that exists primarily due to its military strength of deterrence. Military concepts and slang are very much a part of society. I myself refrained from military service for ideological reasons, and I often wonder how I will react as a parent when, or if, my own son/ daughter enlists. The characters in the movie represent two parts of myself: the ideological part - that innocent hippie character - and the part that needs to be accepted by society and grow up by leaving home. So the idea for this story did not exactly "come" to me. The whole notion of army is a part of me just as it is a part of any Israeli. I was lucky to be able to formulate my feelings, thoughts and fears of military service through this movie.
Both of your actors delivered excellent performances. Can you tell me about your choices in casting the two roles, and also about the way in which you chose to direct your actors?
I chose Avi Pnini (Yoav) because of his face and the close-up shots he supplied. His face is pain stricken. His long hair testifies to the era he belongs to, one that has long passed. There is not very much dialogue in the film, and therefore I needed his face to speak. In many scenes, his face is the text.
Yedidia Vital (Guy) is soft and gentle. He is not the macho character you'd expect of a young man anxious to enlist. In the conflict the film portrays, it would be banal if the father was gentle and the son was macho - too easy and just a little superficial. Things are not that simple. The Israeli reality is that gentle boys get drafted too; they even go into combat units. The 18-year-old leaves his/her parents, friends and dreams behind for three whole years, as s/he goes off to fight.
The film basically directed itself. The situation was very clear. Luckily, I was blessed with two actors who believed in the script and its message. Yedidia arrived at the shooting directly from his army base, where he is currently doing his mandatory military service. Avi has sent two children to the army. Both actors knew the moment, and they had both experienced that night in the past. Although they are not playing themselves, the transposition was quite simple for them: they knew the situation, and re-experienced the pain. The acting experience and talent were less in play here, their knowledge of the situation brought out what later appeared on screen.
There are wonderful close-ups of Avi Pnini's face. You have already commented on these shots. Is there anything you would like to add about them?
The casting and shooting were inseparable. Adi (the cinematographer) was present at all the auditions. As already mentioned, we wanted an actor who speaks through his face, who can carry the pain of the character in his eyes. The close-ups are when the viewer identifies with the character; it's an intimacy between the viewer and the character.
This is a character that is doing terrible things to his son. He ignores him, yells at him, hurts his feelings, even hits him. But the close-ups help us to understand and love him. We see through his eyes and the creases in his face. He loves his son. He is in deep pain. He is in dire straits and he does not know how to handle the situation. Godard expressed it well by saying that the simple close-up is the most emotional of them all, because it can make us anxious about things.
I gather that Guy was not simply drafted into military service but actually volunteered, either before he would have been called into the army, or perhaps for a kind of duty that not everyone is given. My uncertainty about this is due to my ignorance about the Israeli draft system. Could you clear this up for me?
Wrong. Guy was indeed drafted. In Israel, service is mandatory for every 18-year-old girl and boy. They have no choice. Most of them actually go happily, for it is a ticket into Israeli society, a source of pride and belonging, their way to be an equal among equals. There is no hierarchy in the army: the wealthy and poor fight side by side. There are few who are drafted unwillingly, and there are even fewer who refuse to serve and are imprisoned for their refusal.
Yoav has trouble with objects. His car won't start, his lighter doesn't work, and he has a hard time pulling some part out of a transistor radio he is trying to fix. What were your thoughts on this aspect of his character?
You're right, nothing works for Yoav. The radio is only an excuse to distract him from the inevitable confrontation with his son; a way to unload some of his anger and aggression. The lighter simply won't work, and the car is his punishment for lying to his son about the car not starting, when we saw him driving it earlier that day. In the closing scene, when Yoav needs his car most, the lie comes true and the car won't start. This is his nemesis.
All these things happen because Yoav cannot seem to find the way to do things right. He can't figure out how to speak to his son. He is always choosing the wrong way. How different would it have been if he had simply asked his son not to go, holding him closely and explaining how much he loves him and how scared he is of losing him? Yoav has a hard time expressing himself in words; thus the constant occupation with objects, particularly broken ones. His insight comes too late, as does his repentance. The child has already left.
In the final scene, as the bus drives away with Yoav running after it, you substitute an image of Guy as a boy for the adult young man. This adds to the power of the moment and although I think I can guess why you did this, how its meaning might be interpreted, I would very much like to know how you understand this substitution, in your own words.
The little boy in the last scene is the bottom line of the movie. The soldier who enlists is still a child, and this is true for all armies in the world (the United States forbids the consumption of alcohol under the age of 21, while 18 year olds are permitted to go out and kill).
I wanted to emphasize that parents who do not allow their children to go out on 5-day field trips are the same parents who proudly send their children to a place where the probability that they will either kill or get killed is pretty high. This is quite a paradox. I would like people to stop and ask themselves: why am I sending my child to military service? I won't allow him/her to smoke because it endangers his/her health, and they won't drive my car if they're tired, because of the risk this involves, so why am I agreeing to send him/her to the army? The pride that goes with sending a child off to military service stems from impotence, from the primordial fear of having to bury your child. And still, everyone goes on doing it. Parents consciously send their children to the most dangerous place in the world, and celebrate the night before with a big meal. Why?
The answers are about collectivity and nationality. "Who else will protect the country?" "What if everyone just decided to refuse, what thenů?" and so forth. For me, it is difficult to accept these answers, and I find it hard to believe others do. These so-called national excuses aren't reason enough to make a parent sacrifice his/her own child. This is totally twisted! I need to put my finger on the "automatic pilot" that causes people to send their children to play with fire, and why it is that the individual gives in to society precisely in the most dangerous area.
Am I correct in assuming that both hawks and doves in Israel would appreciate this film, even though it is Yoav's story and he is clearly an opponent of right-wing politics?
You're right. People in Israel identify with the movie regardless of their political opinions, because practically everyone here has stood in Yoav's place. This is also, in my opinion, the true achievement of the film, because it was not made for a persuaded audience. On the contrary, I'm glad I didn't antagonize people who do not share Yoav's political opinions. From the very start, my editor, Shiri, said that this film should be edited from an extreme right-wing point of view, and she was right. We would not have been able to achieve anything if the movie spoke a sectarian language, and it definitely had the potential to do so. Everyone here experiences the trauma of recruitment, right and left, and it's hard for everyone. The movie emphasizes the separation, not necessarily the politics.
The true way to make a change through films is through emotions as opposed to rationalistic speeches. It's hard to oppose emotions; they're instinctive and involuntary. It's much easier to close yourself off in face of blunt texts and agendas. After experiencing emotion, you think and you analyze, while the other way around does not work so easily. Thoughts do not translate automatically into emotion.
Is there any advice you would give to students about to make their own first short films?
The film should be real, and by "real" I don't mean realistic, but real in a way that truly reflects the creators' inner truth. Remember that there is no such thing as "too much" in cinema. Do not censor yourself because you feel your movie is "overly sentimental," "too cynical," and so on. Once you censor yourself, you sabotage the movie's truth. If you are a person who is "too sensitive," don't be afraid to go with it. There will always be viewers who will not connect to your movie, but this is also a way to find your "soul mates" across the world. Those who feel the movie was made for them, and in the darkness of the theatre will go the whole way with you, because it's real. Nobody appreciates fraud or forgers. Don't stop asking yourself: what am I doing? Am I really willing to expose myself? The topic you are addressing has got to come from the bottom of your heart, and it must be one that you deal with throughout your life, consciously or subconsciously.
A script undergoes changes, and is written and re-written over and over again. The first draft, however imperfect, is probably the one that expresses your real truth. I recommend that you go back to your first draft before you seal your script. It may supply answers to questions that come up during the process of writing the final drafts.
It's important to be coherent, and the secret is in the script. A secured and consistent text is a winning script. The protagonist and antagonist must represent two sides of you, and you must love the antagonist as much as you love the protagonist. As soon as you have that, you've got an authentic conflict, the conclusion of which is inspiring.
I feel that cinema should aspire to change the world and make it a better place, by arriving, with the help of the cinematic illusion, at a bigger and greater truth. This is done with one thing only. Your heart.
6 November 2004
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