Someone to write with
Noah Stollman, who won an Ophir Prize for his film adaptation of an A.B. Yehoshua novel, wants to take Israeli cinema to a different place. The film is coming to local theaters
Scriptwriter Noah Stollman doesn't totally buy the auteur idea that the director creates a film stamped with his personal imprint and usually writes the script. Stollman presents an alternative - dividing the work between the scriptwriter and the director, as Hollywood does. It can help improve Israeli cinema, he believes, as professional scriptwriters often do better work than directors who insist on writing their films.
Stollman, among others, has been bringing Hebrew literature to the big screen. In the last four years, he has turned novels by three outstanding writers into movies. "Someone to Run With" (2006 ) was based on David Grossman's book and directed by Oded Davidoff. Yoram Kaniuk's book "Adam Resurrected" became a 2008 film he scripted. It was directed by Paul Schrader (who wrote "Taxi Driver" ). This week local theaters will play "The Human Resources Manager," directed by Eran Riklis and scripted by Stollman from A.B. Yehoshua novel. The film had its debut at the Locarno International Film Festival in August and won the Audience Award. It was warmly praised at the Toronto International Film Festival and captivated the Israel Film Academy, which gave it five Ophir Prizes, including best film, direction and script.
"The more developed and sophisticated the industry in Israel becomes," says Stollman, "the more scriptwriters there are who understand there's an entire world of good stories that other people have already told, that are worth telling in another medium." Artists are looking beyond themselves, he says. "They no longer tell only war stories, Holocaust stories and personal experiences."
Stollman, 44, was born in the United States, came to Israel with his family at the age of 3 and grew up in Jerusalem. "But for us the U.S. was the Promised Land. As a child who grew up in Israel in the 1970s in an Anglo-Saxon bubble, my dream was to fulfill the opposite of my parents' aliyah and to return there. That's an anti-Zionist message, but it's something personal," he smiles.
Stollman studied at the Sam Siegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem, and after he finished school, when all his friends moved to Tel Aviv, he and his wife moved to New York, where they lived for 14 years and where their two children were born. Over a year ago they returned to Israel, one reason being Stollman's involvement in Israeli productions.
Stollman's smile widens when he talks about the TV series "Timrot Ashan" (Pillars of Smoke ) for which he wrote the original script and he created the series with friend Oded Davidoff - they did "Someone to Run With" together. It was aired on HOT cable TV last year and reminded many people of David Lynch's outstanding "Twin Peaks."
Stollman says it reflects the style both he and Davidoff like - "the cinema we want to do, a combination of a detective story and action and a world bordering on reality, which reflects streams of reality, but through a filter of...I don't want to say surrealism, but imagination and humor."
It's easy to spot its similarity to "The Human Resources Manager." Both the film by Riklis and Yehoshua's work use a familiar situation here but take off in imagination, moving from the body of a foreign worker in the Jerusalem morgue (she was killed in a terror attack ) to a bizarre journey to a frozen and nameless place whose peasant types speak an unidentified language (for those who don't speak Romanian, the film's creators do not offer any hint ). The hero of the story is the human resources manager (Mark Ivanir ) from the bakery where the woman worked. He must accompany her body on an increasingly convoluted journey.
"When producer Haim Meckelberg approached me, I was already familiar with the story," says Stollman. "I thought that not only is it a strong and moving book, but it also has something that lends itself to cinematic adaptation. On first reading, you feel the energetic and dynamic flow of the story. Besides, there was something in the book that spoke about the situation in Israel, in a way that is not totally anchored in reality, but in a poetic, almost dreamy manner." That was exactly what he likes to work on. "So we took off."Via the subconscious
Stollman says "The Human Resources Manager" differs from most of the films made here. "In Israel, there's no tradition of films in which imagination is a dominant or leading element. You can count on the fingers of one hand the films made here that are on the border between reality and imagination, such as 'Waltzing with Bashir' and 'Avanti Populo,' which I consider great works. They bring you into the Israeli reality, with its political strata, but they also present a personal statement based on the artist's beliefs. That's the type of thing that I aspire, sometime, some day, to achieve."
He notes a place on the Golan Heights was invented for "Timrot Ashan." It drew from reality "but the place names are not real, the names of the characters are somewhat strange, the situation is strange in essence. I think sometimes that's a better way of looking at reality, via the subconscious, via the imagination. It allows you to see differently."
When he adapts a book for the cinema, he tries to understand why each word was written, reads not only the words themselves but also "between the lines" and reads the author's other works to become familiar with style and context. "While doing so," he says, "I note all kinds of metaphors, scenes and situations that I know must be in the film, as well as those that I know will be problematic for cinema."
He constructs a draft, knowing it can't stand by itself because it has to undergo adaptation to a different medium. "And then I put the book aside. I pay attention to what I have as a basis and from there begin to construct the script." Of course, you always come back to the book, he says, as a kind of nourishment.
He made sure to include A.B. Yehoshua in the adaptation process. "I had quite a fascinating dialogue with him. My task and that of Haim (Meckelberg ) was to make him feel that he was in good hands, that if we omit something or change things, we know what we're doing and there's a good reason for it." The novelist, he said, was "very generous with his materials."
Stollman has been working on the second season of "Timrot Ashan," with filming to begin in November. Meanwhile, Meckelberg is working on raising money to finance another film written by Stollman, based on the Isaac Bashevis short story "Two." Stollman and Davidoff have been working on it for a decade. "It's a love story between two yeshiva boys in the 19th century, one of whom disguises himself as a woman so they can live together as husband and wife. We turned in into a detective story about someone who releases agunot (women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce ), who sets out after the two who have fled from their village and nobody knows where they disappeared to," says Stollman.
He's also working on a free adaptation of Albert Camus' "The Plague" and a detective drama that takes place between Tel Aviv and Los Angeles.
And what about directing? Stollman smiles and says auteur theory aside, he plans to direct a film at some point. Anything concrete?
"No," he says. "Theoretically, if a scriptwriter really wants to convey what's in his head when he writes, the best way is to direct by himself. So I'd like to try. On the other hand, there's a matter of ability, strength and order of priorities. I'm not sure I'll succeed. Maybe, in the end, I'll discover that writing is the best way for me to bring these stories to life. "
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