'Go ahead - show everything'
Michal Aviad's first feature film brings together two women raped 25 years earlier.
Two women sit side by side in an editing room, gazing at a screen. The camera, lighting and sound equipment, and film crew crowding around them in the small room are evidence that this is not just a routine editing shift. Director Michal Aviad gives instructions to the two actresses looking at the screen - Ronit Elkabetz and Yevgenia Dodina - and the camera focuses on their faces, examining their expressions and following their reactions to what they see. Both of them peer at the screen in silence, concentrating. Lily (played by Elkabetz) is pensive. It's clear that she is agitated.
"Who cares what she has to say?" she finally asks her companion.
"We do," replies Nira (Dodina).
"All this footage is from after we met?" asks Lily.
"It's from after we are at the police. The whole time I imagined I would screen this for you," says Nira.
"We have to do something with this: show it, make it public," murmurs Lily.
"Do a film?" smiles Nira.
"Whatever you need - I'll help you," promises Lily.
"Kartonim Venylonim" ("Plastic Sheets and Cardboard Boxes") is the tentative title of Aviad's first feature film. A documentary filmmaker and lecturer at the Tel Aviv University film and television department, she wrote the screenplay for it a number of years together with Tal Omer.
The plot focuses on Nira and Lily, two women in their 40s who discover they had met 25 years earlier at a police lineup, to identify a serial rapist who attacked them both. Since then both have tried to carry on with their lives, but the new encounter brings the trauma to the surface again.
"The film deals with the two protagonists' lives in the present," explains Aviad. "It examines what happens to a rape trauma when it arises again many years later, and what happens to women who experienced it. It shows the way the trauma has affected them and their surroundings."
Aviad's other works (among them "The Women Next Door," "Ever Shot Anyone?" and "Jenny and Jenny") offer a look at reality from a woman's point of view. This time too, in her first film that is not a documentary, she says she is using that same vantage point.
"My films look at reality with feminist and also socio-political glasses," she says. "I always try to combine them: the gender angle and the angle that sees social relations and political contexts."
Aviad talks about rape, the most prominent subject in the new film, as a taboo in Israeli society that she is aiming to smash.
"Every fifth woman here, like in Europe and the United States, gets raped," she notes. "This is a statistic that we cannot process, and therefore this issue is hardly spoken of at all. I wanted to deal with this taboo, to talk about rape as something that galvanizes us but is in fact silenced."
The fact that Aviad chose such a topic has also deterred potential investors from putting money into her film. Thus, the production - with support from the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts - had to be done with a modest budget of $700,000. The shooting of the film, which was produced by Ronen Ben-Tal, took 17 days and ended last Thursday.
Fictional, yet real
In the spirit of the times, "Plastic Sheets and Cardboard Boxes" combines feature and documentary footage: Although the story is fictional, the events on which it was based - which were perpetrated by a serial rapist in the country - actually occurred. Aviad relates that in her research for the film, she spoke with many women who had been raped, and decided to integrate into her work recorded testimonies from several who were attacked by the same rapist.
Aviad: "The women with whom I spoke would often recollect only fragments and had difficulty bringing recollections of the act itself up from the recesses of their memory. It's like post-traumatic stress disorder among combat soldiers. For them, too, it is a trauma that surfaces again many years later."
In this respect, Aviad adds, "Plastic Sheets and Cardboard Boxes" is reminiscent of "Waltz with Bashir" and "Lebanon," which also deal directly or indirectly with the trauma fighters have carried with them for many years.
"Rape is an amazing combination for cinema: a combination of sex and violence," says Aviad, "and therefore it is depicted frequently in films, in order to draw in the viewer. However, it is very often depicted from the perspective of the rapist. Here, too, when we tried to raise money for the film, there were people who said to us, 'Go ahead - show everything.'"
Aviad has opted to present the victim's viewpoint, however, not that of the attacker. And instead of the act itself, she is interested in the effect of rape over the years, on the lives of the victims.
The casting of the two protagonists is interesting not only because it provides two of the leading lights in the country an opportunity to perform side by side, but also because of the difference between the two actresses.
Elkabetz says that for her, it was natural to accept an offer to act in a film of this type: "My creative instinct is always attracted to the margins of society, to social subjects, out of a consciousness, awareness and desire to move and change things. I belong to the handful that believes art can effect change, so I do 'social cinema' that seeks to cry out on behalf of those who are not able to do this themselves. Each time this is from another angle, and this time the angle is a woman's.
"Rape is an issue that people deplore and compartmentalize, an issue about which there is very little awareness. Films like this aren't made every day, and certainly not out from a place of radical and sharp scrutiny. The progress in the film is internal and very slow; the blood that drips is on the inside, not the outside. It is dealing with post-trauma not in a conscious way, but rather through repression. It is the meeting between two women that lets the genies out, and enables the garbage to be cleared away."
For her part, Dodinya, says she has found that as an actress, dealing with rape is like dealing with other severe trauma.
"In 'Medea,' too, there is a trauma of betrayal and humiliation," she notes, "but here in the film, it is more difficult and interesting because everything happens beneath the surface."
Dodinya agrees that she and Elkabetz differ in temperament, "but we both have the same approach to work - the same tendency to devote ourselves entirely to what we are doing," she says.
"Every actor has his own way of arriving at the truth, and with the two of us, it is sometimes different. To arrive at a more authentic result, Ronit finds she has to think a lot about what she is doing and answer questions, and in this way to understand what the thing means. I, however, often prefer to do things intuitively - to do things without talking about them, without thinking."