Text size
related tags

Orly Silbersatz Banai is in the Jerusalem courtyard where "Broken Wings" director Nir Bergman is filming his latest movie, and the award-winning actress would rather have a cigarette break than get ready for her next scene.

"There's no time, Orly, come," calls one of the production people. Bergman's film adaptation of novelist David Grossman's "The Book of Intimate Grammar" is running behind schedule, the director explains, because the order of the scenes being filmed that day had to be switched when a pair of glasses broke on the set.

Bergman seems disturbed and anxious for a few moments. But then he gets right back to work, focusing on the monitor in front of him and then repeatedly dashing off to the next room to guide the actors and cinematographer.

Bergman's premiere film - the 2002 "Broken Wings," about a woman and her three children who struggle to survive the death of the father of the family - won first prize at the Jerusalem and Tokyo film festivals, as well as nine Ophir prizes (including Israel's award for best film) and the audience favorite award at the Berlin International Film Festival. Together with Dover Koshashvili's 2001 film "Late Marriage," Bergman's first movie was a harbinger of the international success of several Israeli movies that came out afterward.

But in the more than seven years since then, Bergman has been absent from the local film scene. He spent the time writing the screenplay for "The Book of Intimate Grammar," and writing and directing several Israeli television shows, including "Betipul," the Israeli version of the HBO psychotherapy drama "In Treatment." Bergman says it took him a long time to return to the director's chair after "Broken Wings" because writing the screenplay was time-consuming and because he "needed time to mature," as he put it on a lunch break last week, a few days before he finished filming the NIS 6 million movie, one of the most intriguing Israeli films in production.

"Only today, as we're getting to the end of the shooting, do I understand how different cinema work is from television work," he says. "It's a work whose creation requires total responsibility, as opposed to television work, where you compromise more and give in more, because there are the demands of the franchise holder and there's limited airtime. These are understandable compromises. Now, when I return from the set after five days of filming and sit and watch what we filmed, I realize how much bigger the responsibility is here. There's the raw material, which is film and not video, the large screen on which the material will be shown and where every grain and every blink will show up. Apparently in this case I needed this long period of maturation. I hope that in the future, it will take less time."

Bergman, 40, says he identifies with the main character in the book on which the film is based: Aron Kleinfeld, a sensitive dreamer of a boy growing up in 1960s Jerusalem who is so revolted by the adult world in which his Holocuast-survivor parents live that his own physical growth is suspended.

"This book has been a sort of bible for me," he says. "I think that I'm very attached to this boy, who didn't grow. I was also a boy who didn't grow, and I also connected to his perspective on the adult world, to his desire not to grow and become like them. It's basically a story about a boy who stops his growth. On one hand he wants to grow, but on the other hand, he's afraid of becoming like his parents. Such a boy, who will probably become an artist, must grow in his own way, and not give in to this biological dictate that says 'grow now,' and therefore, what happens is he gets stuck and remains behind."

The idea of taking his "bible" and making it into a film had been germinating for a long time.

"When 'Broken Wings' was shown at the Jerusalem Festival, I already knew that this was a film I wanted to make," he says. "I met David Grossman on the street by chance on one of the days of the festival. I invited him to the screening of the film, but he happened to be on his way to another film. A few days later, I met him again, and I suggested turning 'The Book of Intimate Grammar' into a film. He smiled skeptically, and told me, 'Go for it.'"

The movie is being produced with the support of the Rabinowitz Foundation, HOT telecommunications company and the Jerusalem Film and Television Initiative. Bergman is working with some of the people who made his first movie such a success, including "Broken Wings" producer Assaf Amir and Silbersatz Banai, who won an Ophir prize for best actress for her role in that film. Bergman wrote the role of Hinda, Aron's mother, specifically for Silbersatz Banai.

A good line

In a small room, actress Rivka Gur lies on a bed covered. Silbersatz Banai hovers around her, tucking Gur under the blanket, or perhaps binding her to the bed.

"Everything I do you have to destroy, you have to ruin every party," the "Broken Wings" actress says. "Every time, you have to ruin whatever I do." She turns to the boy looking on, ordering him to stay there as she goes to bring some pills. He sits down on the bed slowly.

"Mamchu, you wanted to save me?" he says softly to Gur. But then Silbersatz Banai returns to the room in a fury and sends him back to his bar mitzvah celebration, shouting: "Leave this meshugeneh alone already, leave her. Go back there." As he opens the door and is about to go out, she looks at him and says: "You know, Aron, I really am starting to think that you do this to us on purpose."

Silbersatz Banai stops the rehearsal for a moment and asks Bergman: "Nir, there was a good line you said then, what was it?" Bergman stops, thinks, and comes back with: "Don't worry Mamchu; everyone saw today what I have to live with." The two decide to add this sentence to her lines at the end of the scene.

"This role is not easy for me," she says. "I sit here in a little room with the boy, during the filming of these scenes, and it brings back memories that are not always so pleasant. My mother was a Holocaust survivor, so the subject of the Holocaust is not something new for me. This role brings me back to dark and difficult places."

"You know," she stops for a moment, pensive. "I never spoke about this. Interesting."

Despite Hinda's cruelty and toughness, and the difficulty of walking in her shoes, Silbersatz Banai refuses to see her as a monster. "I can't think that way, because my ability to identify with the character is a tool of my trade," she says. "I have to find justifications that will explain to me why she behaves this way, because there some scenes in this story that are real abuse, and that's scary. I feel as if this woman is kind of outing traits that people usually try to conceal. It's as if someone is shooting and crying at the same time: she does things and afterwards regrets them. Nevertheless, I look for the good in her, because making a monster is not something that is interesting."

The actress says the role enables her to take on something new and challenging. "I'm at a point where if I were to continue playing the touching, heartwarming and kind character in dire straits who is always sobbing, it would really wear me out," she says. "I knew that in this film I had to go places I had never been to before, for myself, in order not to bore myself. Every mature actor has the gimmicks and charms that built him. And if you succeeded in that, it's very hard not to get stuck in this safe place, which worked for you until now."

Silbersatz Banai says working with Bergman is helping her expand her repertoire.

"Recreating yourself always sounded unrealistic to me, but the optimal situation in my opinion is still to try and be in places that are indeed somewhat new for me," she says. "For example, I'm always very emotional, so let's say I would try and hold myself back a little. Or even to stand in front of people on the set and expose myself, to let loose shouts of the Holocaust and reveal some of the most personal things. There were scenes in the film that when they were being shot, I had a feeling of deja vu about past sensations, a feeling of deja vu of places where I had once been. And Nir really helps me to find new things like this. That dog, he knows how to get things out of me that no one else can."