The idea of meeting up with the same group of people of the same age at regular intervals in their lives, as is done in the series "The Ran Quadruplets," dawned on Giyora Yahalom-Ofir, who used to be the head of Yes' documentary films department. The idea that the members of this group would be siblings was the brainchild of Yahalom-Ofir's creative partner, Oren Yaakobi.
The quadruplets, as the opening lines relate at the start of each episode, consist of three brothers and one sister. In the show, they are 32 years old. Inserted documentary-style clips reveal the characters in youthful flashbacks. In the fictional Israeli series, the characters are filmed every eight years.
In the British documentary "7-Up," director Michael Apted told Haaretz's Gallery section the series participants in retrospect would not have participated in the project as guinea pigs.
Yahalom-Ofir empathizes with the participants. "Clearly. Seeing the accelerated aging, the dreams that were shattered." In "The Ran Quadruplets," it seems the family members are not very pleased with the presence of the documentary director.
Yahalom-Ofir, now the director of original productions at Yes, is a graduate of Tel Aviv University and a few years ago was spoken of as a promising figure in the theater world. "My final project was a romantic comedy play called 'I Waited Just for You.' Rivka Michaeli, Lior Ashkenazi and Nati Ravitz starred in it," he recalls, "and very surprisingly, it ran for 100 performances in large auditoriums. I was sure that I'd be a playwright.
"Very soon I discovered there is no place in theater for the things I want to put on, things that are deeper or connected to sexuality. We're friends from the academy of theater," he says of himself and his partner of the last nine years, Uri Ofir, "and that's why we see lots of plays, and I have to say that I don't see myself in any way on the stage in any of the characters, nor any of my friends from Tel Aviv or from the kibbutz. Not only do I not identify myself on the stage, I also don't see myself in the audience. The repertoire is focused on a candy-sucking audience, as Yarden Bar Kochva once described them."
The two approached Israel's National Academy of Theater after reading an item in Haaretz' Gallery section. "'If you like theater, write a review of a play you liked,' it stated. We saw Hanan Snir's 'Tamara' and we really liked it. I wrote a review and Uri told me it wasn't good. Immediately, my ego was hurt, I told him: 'Okay, you write one.' We sent the two reviews, and Uri's was accepted.'"
"With all the criticism television critics levy at TV dramas, and I agree with some of them and certainly I'd want to see more depth and more political content, I don't see anything that is half of this in the theater, except for Reshef Levy's last play.The only exception is Tzipi Pines. She nurtures young people. That's where Oren Yaakobi and I met. We were both doing readings at Potehim Bama (Staging Something). And we both won first place and have been good friends since then. At the same time, I started working in television, I realized that things I write will not be in the theater, and I don't believe in writing when no one sees [the product].
To rebel or not to rebel
"I told Oren I want to write a television series like 'thirtysomething,' which I watched as a kid," says Yahalom-Ofir, who says he is a fan of the series' creators, Edward Zwick and Marshall Hershkovitz. "I wanted to write about our age," he says. And, like the heroes of the series, he is also 32, "an age when you have to give a reckoning, when you decide if this the life you're going to lead, or you rebel against all that.
"Oren wanted to do a series about siblings. Within an hour, we had a series about brothers who experience the age 30 crisis together."
The combination of the quasi-documentary element in the story line, the presence of the documentary director who follows the siblings, stemmed from a desire to investigate "to what extent the persona that people reveal on screen is real. We wanted to say that in documentaries, you see mostly fakes. Like the joint interview with Neta (Michal Yannai) and Eitan (Oded Leopold)," he says.
To the camera, the two say they never go to sleep angry, but in the drama beyond the documentary section, viewers see that their personal lives, especially Neta's life, are gradually collapsing.
"Documentary film is a wonderful tool for showing the truth versus the truth that is told, and also the confession to the anonymous interviewer always causes them to understand something according to which they should act. This is a series about growing up and about the understanding that comes with age that everyone has to live life for himself."
I wouldn't have expected a kibbutznik to say something like this.
"A former kibbutznik," he answers.
He is very attached to Kibbutz Kinneret, where he was born and raised, until he left during his military service. The poster for Ran Tal's documentary, "Children of the Sun," about the kibbutzim, which he describes as his "greatest accomplishment" is the only one hanging in his office. "I helped to raise money to produce it. It was approved before I took my job at Yes, but it got stuck."
Another accomplishment, which he can apparently take credit for now, is the quantity of new and diverse dramas being shown on Yes ("the most liberal body in television," he says). Over the course of one month, in addition to "The Ran Quadruplets," other shows that will air include "S'rugim" (Knit Things) a relationship drama about boys who wear knit skullcaps and girls who wear denim skirts in Jerusalem; "Hakira Pnimit" (Internal Investigation), a suspense series; and "Papadizi," a satirical show with Menashe Noy.
He had to fight for "Children of the Sun."
"Foundations weren't willing to give money because just then they were supporting another film about kibbutzim, that's how it works with them," he explains. "I sat in the editing room and sobbed when I saw it. I felt we would be correcting things with it. I came to the army and was amazed by the intensity of the anti-kibbutz stereotypes," he says. According to him, "Sweet Mud," his favorite Israeli film, had something to do with this: "The script for 'Sweet Mud' was so filled with hate. I'm so happy that Dror Shaul cleaned this up, because the kibbutz has love for mankind."
Still he talks about living for the individual. "Whoever doesn't pursue his own happiness gets punished," he states.
In the new series, it seems that the character of Neta, the popular girl in school who wakes up to a cruel world, is especially punished.
'The man I could have been'
"Her character is punished because she doesn't use the crisis in her life and channel it to something better. Neta is my favorite character. Goren Agmon, a scriptwriting teacher, once said that you have to write for a muse. 'At most, afterward you'll cast someone else in the role,' she told us. I met Michal Yannai at Oren's play, 'December' about a young couple who get married and are very much in love and in the end separate. She demonstrated restrained acting, was introverted, completely different.
"We had to fight for her, because they didn't see her in the role. I said, 'Let's take the popular girl and see what happens to her at age 30-plus, when life starts to knock her on the head with a five-kilo hammer.'"
The one who strikes the hammer is her husband, Eitan.
"Eitan is the man I could have been," says Yahalom-Ofir. "What happens to him is what would have happened to me had I decided to turn myself off and marry a woman. Like him, I would have broken down.
"The reaction of the family in the series is very twisted. That's how we wanted it to be, that nothing is easy. It was very important to me that the brother who is handicapped from birth not be cute, that he has issues, a poor body image and a hatred of women, which is self-hatred directed outward. Because women and the sex act are what confront him with his handicaps. Gur (Oshri Sahar) never had legitimacy to be weak because of his handicap, not with his parents and not with his brothers. Everyone saw him as completely equal."
There are many people who believe this is the right way to raise a handicapped person.
"Oren told me that he wrote a play for deaf people and did a big study of 25-year-old actors from the new generation who were raised to go to schools for the hearing, and he said that at the age of 25, they became very angry people, because they came out of the bubble. As opposed to their friends, it wasn't easy for them to find work, because in reality deaf people are not hired the way hearing people are hired.
In addition, no one is willing to offer a helping hand to them because they weren't given legitimacy. And this is what he brings to the character of Gur.
"I grew up with a handicapped mother. She was injured in the Yom Kippur War; in a wheelchair for four years; injured in the first aerial attack on Sinai. She was an office manager in a base. All the female soldiers had gone home for the holiday and she stayed. During the first Mig attack, everyone around her was killed. When the planes returned to verify the kill, she lay still, pretending to be dead, so they wouldn't shoot her again. In the ambulance on the way to Tel Hashomer hospital, she was clinically dead three times.
"For four years, during which she give birth to me and my brother [Yahalom-Ofir has another brother, who is nine years younger - R.K.], she gained a lot of weight, and after two births, went on a diet and got her weight went down to 80 kilos. She is a very strong woman. Today she does triathlons using a bicycle with hand-operated pedals. She is 52, and a nutritionist. She was crowned the weight-loss champion of the year by the international Weight Watchers organization."
Given that Yahalom-Ofir is responsible for original productions, including documentaries, on the satellite station, he clearly sees that his mother's story could serve as a good documentary film
"She's my hero," he says and quickly adds, "I really love my dad who taught me how to write."
But if he directs a documentary about someone, it would not be about his parents alone, but about the total experience of the Yom Kippur War.
"All of their good friends were killed in the war. Because of that they taught us that we have no right to live life without fulfilling ourselves."
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