Talent, and touching vulnerability
A decade ago, Li At Glick left Israel for New York, leaving behind a promising acting career. When she returned, she took up filmmaking. In her premiere work, being screened in Berlin this week, she grapples with one of her life's great traumas.
An 11-year-old girl stands in the bathroom, facing the toilet. She urinates standing up. She decorates her hair with a shiny floral pin and gives herself a lengthy look in the mirror. She opens a box decorated with flowers, whips out a doctor's white coat, brings it close to her nose. She also takes out a brown wooden pipe and a stethoscope.
The girl puts on the oversize coat, and holds up the stethoscope against a window, gazing out at Tel Aviv as it wakes up to a new day. Then she goes into her mother's bedroom. "It's late, get up, we're going to Dad," she presses her.
"What are you wearing?" the woman addresses her daughter. "Take that out of your mouth," she says sharply to the girl, who has now put the stethoscope in her mouth.
"I don't want to, I like it," the daughter replies.
Thus opens "Layla Bahir" ("Bright Night" ), a short film by Li At Glick that is being screened at the Berlin Film Festival, which opened yesterday. The movie is competing in the Generation Kplus category, reserved for short and feature-length films that deal with children and teenagers.
The film covers a single day: the anniversary of the girl's father's death. The day brings to the surface the conflicts between the child, who insists on preserving her physician-father's presence in her life, and her mother, who is trying to forge a relationship with a new man whom she has met.
"Bright Night," which Glick, 39, wrote and directed as her graduation project in film studies at the Minshar art school in Tel Aviv, contains autobiographical elements. Her father, who was a doctor, died from cancer when Glick was 7.
"I never thought I would write about my father, that I would tell a story related to his death. After all, it has been such a long time since then," she admits. "But in my third year of school, when we began working on the graduation projects, we were given work guidelines each week. And somehow, every time, the story about my father, about dealing with his death, kept coming up. It popped up anew each time."
"Bright Night" was showcased last spring at the Film Market of the Cannes Festival, and now Glick is in Berlin for its screening at that city's prestigious event. In the wake of her work on it, Glick decided to expand her narrow family circle and succeeded in tracking down two lost brothers, with whom she had never been in contact.
'About to run dry'
A native of Tel Aviv, Glick began studying at the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio during her mandatory military service. She appeared in Joseph Pitchadze's 1996 film "Le'neged Einayim Ma'araviyot" ("Under Western Eyes" ), Amos Gitai's "Kippur" (2000 ) and Tzahi Grad's "Girafot" ("Giraffes" ) in 2001, for which she was nominated for an Ophir Prize for best supporting actress; in Cameri Theater productions, among others in the plays "Best Friends," "The Miser," "Murder" and "As You Like It"; and also starred in the television series "20 Plus" and "Tipul Nimratz" ("Intensive Care" ).
During that period, she married actor Liron Levo (with whom she appeared in the film "Kippur," in a scene in which the pair are shown making love at a Tel Aviv art studio, their naked bodies dipping into a colorful array of paints ). The marriage of the young and promising actors attracted a lot of attention at the time, but soon broke down. In 2002, after three years together, the couple separated.
Immediately after the breakup, Glick packed a suitcase, took her Labrador dog and flew to New York.
"For 10 years I had acted, a lot," she says, "and at a certain point I wanted to imbibe more. I felt that my spring was about to run dry; that it had a few final drops left, and that to refill it I must travel to the mountain, to a place nourished by fresh new snows. It was a need for renewal.
"I was really, really alone there. It was magical," Glick continues, smiling. "With all the wacky people who live there and with the futurism of that city, I felt that I had at long last come to a place that fit my pace. For me, it was like being Alice in Wonderland - like being at an amusement park, despite all of the difficulties."
Glick worked as a waitress at an Israeli restaurant in SoHo, saw a lot of movies and art exhibitions, and began studying filmmaking and photography, as well as resuming acting lessons. She performed with at the Jewish Theater of New York, a self-described political theater company founded in 1994, appeared in an American indie movie called "Love," and embarked on translating Hanoch Levin's play "Retzach" ("Murder" ) into English, with the aim of putting it on with a group of friends off-Broadway.
After four years in New York, in the middle of the translation project, Glick learned that her mother was ill (she later recovered ).
"I am an only child, and my mother and I are very close," she explains now. "I decided that I would return to Israel for a few months, to take care of her, and that in the process I would continue working on the translation of 'Murder.' I was supposed to go back to New York and play the bride in the play - the same role I had previously played in Israel - but then everything went wrong, and I got sick too."
Her own illness prompted Glick to scrap her plans to return to New York. Instead, she resumed her film studies in Israel, and also rejoined the Cameri Theater. She played in "Antigone" and "Death of a Salesman," and later on was sent by the theater to Poland to take part in the "Noah's Ark" project - a coproduction in which actors from various countries traveled with the play of the same name over a period of three months, mounting it in different countries.
Glick says the spent the last three years of her studies concentrating on "Bright Night." "The writing demanded 'a room of its own' - I couldn't divide my attention between acting and writing. I couldn't maneuver within that totality. It was a torrid affair inside a room, into which I couldn't admit any other lover.
"I think this journey for me was a kind of bidding farewell to my father, or more precisely a process of growing up," she says. "Over the years, there had been something in my handling of Dad's death that always remained childish, [that was characteristic of] a girl who had lost her father. And in making this film I hope that I managed to take that scar and 'channel' it to an interesting place."
The death four years ago of her first acting teacher, Nissan Nativ, to whom she was very close, revived in her the experience of death and grief.
"Nissan died as I began working on the film, and this grief connected with that grief," she explains. "It was like grass, how after it rains you suddenly smell its scent again. The memory of this little wound does go with me everywhere, but since it is distant, it was always both present and absent. And suddenly, after Nissan's death, it was no longer just recalling sensations, but smelling this fragrance that was suddenly present again."
Reality and art
One scene in "Bright Night" takes place in a cemetery, when the mother (played by Yael Reich ) and her daughter (Emma Sechvi Vonschwarze ) visit the father's grave. The scene was shot at the Kiryat Shaul cemetery in Tel Aviv.
Glick: "We filmed at my father's cemetery. My whole family is buried there, and I'll be there too; we have a plot. "I hadn't gone there in years, and there I was at his gravesite with the entire film crew. We sat down, the cinematographer, the actresses, and I, on the tombstone, I took out food and drink that I had brought along, and we did what I hadn't done for so many years - we sat on my father's grave, we ate, drank, talked, got down to business there. It was pleasant.
"Like the mother in the film, my mother is also gorgeous - she always resembled Gena Rowlands, aristocratic and noble - and like the girl in the film, I too was always a tomboy. When I fashioned the character of the girl, I thought of the lovely painting by Munch, 'Puberty,' in which you see a girl sitting on a bed, naked and concealing with her hands the body that is beginning to change. I decided to incorporate the peeing standing up at the beginning, because it's a question that comes up at that age, the beginning of puberty: Whom do I want to be like, Dad or Mom? Which of them do I resemble?"
Glick still makes the occasional appearance in student films ("I really love it," she says with a big smile ), studies Buddhist philosophy, practices meditation, and is also working on her next film. This time she plans to act in it as well, and hopes to persuade her mother to co-star alongside her.
"We are very close, my mother and I, as though the umbilical cord between us was never severed," she explains again. "Over the years the two of us remained to contend together with life."
In recent years Glick changed her first name, from Liat to Li-At (literally, in Hebrew, "mine you are" ). She decided on the change while working on "Bright Night."
"It was my father who wanted to name me Liat, and when I made the film, I suddenly understood the ever-so lovely meaning that he gave to my name: 'At Li' - you are mine," she explains. "I always knew it of course, but suddenly it was terribly moving, touched my heart. For years he hadn't been there, and suddenly, with the film and with the significance of this name, I realized that he loved me. So I decided to consecrate this name that he gave me."
Glick came to her interview with Haaretz without makeup. In contrast to her precise, planned and meticulous film, her manner of speech is scattershot, truncated and full of broken sentences. She is nervous and not ashamed to admit it, and exudes a touching vulnerability.
In discussing the photograph that will accompany the article, she immediately raises the possibility of posing nude. She suggests a photograph inspired by the same Munch painting that helped her shape the figure of the girl in the film. She confesses that she loves being in front of the camera, that it is a place where she feels comfortable.
"I remember a charming actress, with loads of good intentions and loads of talent," says Tzahi Grad, who directed Glick in the 2001 film "Giraffes."
"She was very sensitive. She was stressed, radiated confusion, wasn't sure of herself, but I went with the flow, explained to her over and over again what she had to do. I remember the work with her, and also the outcome, as magical. She had a lot of qualities as an actress.
"As an actor myself, I know that it's a profession in which you always feel insecure; that it's a constant state of mind of anxiety and insecurity," continues Grad. "She was a type that was very easy to love - someone who looks like the girl next door, full of charm, light, one of those whom you see and straight away want to hug. She was a major actress at the time, she was in her prime and always radiated a combination of weakness and some kind of strength. I was pretty surprised when I heard that she switched to film studies, but I was happy for her."
Edna Mazya, who directed Glick in three Cameri Theater productions, also recalls her vulnerability. "She was like a person without skin, without an immune system, like a bleeding sore. And she really did manage to bring out suffering and agony from the depths of her soul - that is something that was very accessible with her. She went all out, dealt only with this, was restless, vibrating, filled with stormy emotion, terribly vulnerable and yet terribly intelligent.
"She was an unpredictable person. I remember that she suddenly went and got married, suddenly separated, the free spirit type ... Along with all of this, she was good, tender and considerate, and I became very attached to her. She was a promising actress, and then all of a sudden she disappeared. When I ran into her, she told me that she had begun studying film. She is on a long quest for self-discovery, and I won't be surprised if she has another few stations throughout life."
I'm a sister!
In the course of editing "Bright Night," Glick made a snap decision to search for her two half-brothers, both from her father's first marriage. They live in Brazil, she knew, but she had never been in touch with them.
"I remember that when my father died, a woman came and brought me a doll from the Carnival in Brazil, and later on I knew, and also could feel, that I had siblings," she relates. "It has always been a sort of fantasy of mine that one day I would meet my siblings, I would know them. But it never worked out, was never possible.
"And then, when I began editing the film, it suddenly became urgent. I began by Googling them and found one of them on Facebook. I sent him a Friend request, and that very night I started to fill my page with loads of pictures, so that if he decided to peek at my Profile, he would be able to see me. And then he sent me a reply. I wrote to him, 'Hello brother,' and he wrote back to me, 'Hello sister' - and I said to myself, 'Wow, somebody called me sister, I'm a sister!'
"I sent them the film, because I wanted them to see the film that I'd made about the same father they had too. My father divorced their mother when they were children, and so they 'lost' my father at around the same age at which I lost him. So we all lost him at a young age. Each of us has been lugging around his baggage for years, and suddenly when you meet and say, 'I am like you, I too have the same scar from him,' there is something very sweet about it. It's the beginning of a connection. So far it's only on Facebook, but I will definitely go to meet them."
Glick turns 40 in a couple of months. For the past few years she has not been in a relationship, and she is not sure whether she will have children of her own. In any event, she says that "I've always thought of adopting. Because I know what it is to grow up without a father, I know that if I adopt, if I have an orphaned child, I will have a connection with him; we will have something in common. It's a fantasy, which may well be unrealistic, but it's a kind of romantic thought. I know that I will always have a sense of identification with a child like that, the identification of a small loss, that I will be able to know what he's talking about, without the need to spell it out. It's the little secret that is reserved for anyone who has experienced the loss of a parent."