Haunted by 'Jenin, Jenin'
In a Q&A, Mohammed Bakri tells how his 2003 documentary, and his current portrayal of a woman onstage test him emotionally.
Israeli actor Mohammed Bakri, whose film "Jenin, Jenin" caused a furor about a decade ago, performed at Tel Aviv's Tzavta Theater this week in "The House of Bernarda Alba." The right-wing Im Tirtzu movement demonstrated against the show, and Culture Minister Limor Livnat criticized Tzavta's "judgment" in allowing Bakri to take the stage.
It's been a long time since you've been onstage. You haven't been on an Israeli stage since 2003. Did you miss it?
How was it to return to an Israeli audience?
These are people I love, they're an audience like any other audience I perform for - Arabs, Turks, Americans. I also perform for an Israeli audience. People. They're people.
This is the first time you've played a woman. How was that?
It's hard for me because in a certain place you relinquish your masculinity. The masculinity test you go through, to relinquish it, isn't easy. That is, to be without gender, to be not yourself, to be - forgive the expression but - without a cock and balls. It's not easy at all; for me, in any case.
Not that it's the most important thing in the world, but apparently a man who loses his masculinity is in a difficult situation.
What is this masculinity you're relinquishing?
I don't know how to define masculinity. I'm not being disingenuous - I really don't know. It's personality, it's being attractive as a man, its toughness, charisma. It's in your voice, your movements. You have to refine both your voice and your movements; physically, you have to behave differently than what you're used to. It's a way of looking, a softness you have to show that you can't always find in yourself as a coarse male.
And how was it to play an oppressive female tyrant?
This is a character who - I think - is the total opposite of me. I advocate freedom, I want equality, I'm against the oppression of women, oppression of the weak whoever they may be. I try to help people who need help, I try to be the same with everyone.
I'll give you an example. I'm 58 years old and I'm working on this production with very young girls, like my children. And I was very dissatisfied with the poster for the play. It only had my picture, and the female students from the academy were only mentioned in the text. I wanted a picture of all the girls to be on the poster.
Maybe that's less artistic, but from my perspective it brings a kind of equality to the work and the approach.
If I'm doing a performance against oppression, at least in the presentation of the performance there should be equal respect for me and the girls, even though they don't have the experience and fame that I have. For some of them this is the first time they're performing in front of an audience.
Apropos fame, "Jenin, Jenin" is really haunting you.
There are people who want it to haunt me. This is a film that was made 10 years ago in a very specific situation, right at the heart of the second intifada and the pain, blood and bereavement on both sides. It's a film that, when I made it, I naively thought I could influence Israeli public opinion - especially to end the occupation and the killing and all that.
I haven't dragged "Jenin, Jenin" with me into "Bernarda Alba," and we never brought it up or any political issues at all, intentionally. I worked as a human being, an artist, completely neutral. And I tried to bring as much work and depth as possible into our work.
When you look at it from the perspective of 10 years, how do you see the film? It's a film that was made from the gut, without a plan, without a lot of thought and advance planning, without thinking about the results and how it would be received. I thought that because it was from the gut, it would work on the gut of the other ... especially the Israelis and all the nations of the world. It could be that today I've matured 10 years, I've experienced new things, I've worked on new films and plays, and maybe I would have done it ... thinking deeply, thinking how it would be received by the Israelis.
Do you regret it?
No. You can't regret a child you've made, dear. Anyone who regrets a child he has made isn't a father, isn't a parent. Even an ugly child you've made is the most beautiful child in the world. I love my country, even though it's ugly today. Very ugly today.