Powerful Synergy

Filming began two weeks ago in Romania of "Cendres et Sang" ("Ashes and Blood"), the directorial debut of French actress Fanny Ardant. Ardant wrote the screenplay, which is based on an essay by the Albanian-French writer Ismail Kadare. For the lead role, Ardant turned to Israeli actress Ronit Elkabetz, herself an award-winning performer who has also turned to directing.

Elkabetz, who is currently seen on-screen in "7 Days" ("Shiva," which she also co-directed, with her brother, Shlomi Elkabetz), and who also starred "The Band's Visit" and "My Treasure" (called "Or" in Hebrew), arrived in Israel over the weekend for a few days' rest, before returning to Romania for the resumption of filming. She said this was the first time she had worked with Ardant, and described the experience as "very powerful."

In the movie, Elkabetz portrays a woman who raises her three children alone following the murder of her husband. During a family wedding, she makes up her mind to return to her homeland after being away for 18 years. "When she returns to her place of birth, whose identity is not known," Elkabetz says, "this causes an argument and clashes between three families, against a background of land, revenge and honor."

News of the project first became public at the Cannes Film Festival last May. At that time, Portuguese producer Paulo Branco (whose company Alfama Films has produced many of the films of director Manoel de Oliveira) said that Ardant would work with a budget of some three million euros, and would have the support of the French TV channel Canal Plus. Branco described this as "an extremely personal story about blood connections in an extended family, in a Shakespearean atmosphere."

Although Ardant has not yet tried her hand at film directing, she had her first experience as a theater director when the operetta "Veronique" (written in 1898 by the French composer and conductor Andre Messager) opened in Paris in January. The critics were only lukewarm about that effort.

In contrast, Elkabetz's most recent attempt at directing (she and her brother also jointly wrote and directed the 2005 feature "To Take a Woman"), has been more warmly received. "Shiva"'s distributors say the film has sold some 44,000 tickets since its release in Israel 10 days ago.