Photographic Memories / Blast from the past
Avi Nesher recalls the demolition of the British secret police building in 'Rage and Glory,' when he lost his fear as a filmmaker.
When I made "Rage and Glory" in 1984, I wanted to make a film that would deal with the human face of terrorists. When you talk about the enemy they're called "terrorists," but when it comes to our guys they're always "freedom fighters." This film was made at a very sensitive time in Israel, during the first Lebanon war. At the time, for example, they prohibited the screening of "The Battle of Algiers" in Israel, because Arab terrorists were portrayed in it as freedom fighters. I wrote a screenplay about a Lehi [pre-state underground] fighter named Eddie the Butcher, who dedicates himself to an idea and is willing to take a life and pay with his life. I identified with this character and the decision to cast Juliano Mer, a Jewish Arab, for the role was considered scandalous at the time. The feeling was that it would be dangerous to film that here.
Because I started working on this film after "The Troupe" and "Dizengoff 99," which were very popular, it aroused a lot of interest. But because of its subject, there was a feeling in Israel that it represented a foreign viewpoint. Anyone who dared at the time to say anything against the Lebanon war was considered an enemy of the people. As far as I was concerned, I wanted to tell the story of a Lehi cell in Jerusalem in 1942. And I said that if anyone wanted to give the film another interpretation, they were welcome to do so. But that was dangerous. They threatened Juliano's life as well as mine. We weren't afraid of dying, but we felt that we were doing something dangerous.
One night we filmed a scene in which a British secret policeman tries to arrest Eddie. Juliano insisted on being present at the filming, although his character was supposed to be outside the frame, and when the policeman fired a blank at him, which was full of pieces of coal, they pierced his face. We took him to hospital where he underwent surgery all night, and he clearly couldn't be filmed the next day.
The most important scene in the film was planned for the next day, in which the Lehi group blows up the British secret police building in Jerusalem. We filmed it in the high school at what is now the Suzanne Dellal Center, aware that the building - which was slated for demolition - was already packed with two tons of dynamite, and that they were going to blow it up the next day, with or without us.
While we were still in the hospital, photographer David Gorfinkel said to me: "You know what, from behind you resemble Juliano." And then we had the idea that I would play Eddie in that crazy action scene. We decided that the director would blow up together with the building, and a few months later we would film the close-up of this scene with Juliano.
And that's what happened. In the picture you see me while the scene was being filmed, when I was playing Eddie the Butcher. They filmed me from behind while I was being shot at and things were exploding next to me, and everything reaches a crescendo when Eddie tries to escape, lies down on barbed wire, and behind him is the building that is about to blow up. I was holding the device that detonated the explosion. The barbed wire was ripping my flesh, injuring me, [the actor] Roni Pinkovitz is pulling me, and everyone is shouting: "Blow it up, blow it up!" And all I can think about at that moment is that later, in the editing room, I'll want a few more seconds of this moment. In the end I press the button, and in Pinkovitz's eyes I see the entire building fly into the air.
It had a terrible beauty, because I knew that in a few months, when the film came out, something terrible would happen to me. In the end the film failed in Israel but was successful at foreign festivals, and I developed a kind of fearlessness regarding things that are considered dangerous.
When I wanted to do "Turn Left at the End of the World" (2004 ), for example, they told me: "Why do you want to make a film about Moroccans and Indians, aren't you afraid to enter those places? Isn't it a shame to pay the price?" But I had already been there, I had already paid the price, and I saw that in the final analysis it was all right. Since then, I make every film as though it were my last. I always see the end of the road as an option, but that doesn't deter me enough. I'm not frightened enough to stop or to avoid going all the way with whatever interests me.