In February 2010 the international media was taken by storm: Dubai police released still photos and videos taken by security cameras that showed the foreign agents who had been sent to assassinate senior Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a local hotel. The videos showed how 11 foreign nationals entered Dubai, arrived at the hotel where Mabhouh was staying wearing different disguises - including tennis outfits - did what they did and fled the scene immediately after the killing. The Mossad, of course, was the primary suspect.
The morning after, French-Israeli director and screenwriter Emmanuel Nakache was sitting in a Tel Aviv café, reading the reports in the papers. He was deeply impressed by the way technology had made it possible to follow the sequence of the operation, second by second. While the Mossad never confirmed that it was behind the operation, that didn’t stop Nakache, like millions of others, from fantasizing about the assassins’ identities and how they’d carried out their mission.
“It was fascinating to me – to think about whether the Mossad was responsible for the operation or not, and to see them caught red-handed by the security cameras,” says Nakache. “In addition, I found it funny that based on the pictures, it seemed as if they had all worn the same wigs, pasted on the same mustaches and wore the same glasses. It looked exactly like a Louis de Funes comedy,” he adds, referring to the late French comic actor.
Nakache at that point had made only one feature-length film, “Jerusalem Syndrome,” a low-budget picture he directed with his friend Stephane Belaisch. But he started tossing around an idea in his mind. From there things moved quickly, although Nakache, who never studied film, had begun working in the field at a relatively advanced age and was practically unknown in the local industry. Yet not only did he write a sophisticated crime comedy, he managed to excite investors, raising a huge sum of money by Israeli standards (around NIS 10 million, two-and-a-half times the budget of the average Israeli film). He was also able to assemble an impressive cast of Israeli and French stars, snaring no less than supermodel Bar Refaeli for the role of the female secret agent.
The resulting film, “Kidon” (“spear” – the name of the Mossad department allegedly tasked with assassinating terrorists) opens today in Israeli theaters. It is produced by Michael Sharfstein, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery and Manuel Mintz, with the support of the Rabinowitz Foundation and Channel 10.
“Kidon” got an unexpected public relations boost last year, only a few days after the filming began. Upon learning that in one of the scenes the Mabhouh character is seen drinking alcohol and submitting to the Israeli temptress (Refaeli), the family said it would sue to block the film’s distribution on grounds that it severely compromised the Hamas man’s reputation.
Life begins at 30
Nakache was born in 1972 in Paris to an observant Jewish family. To meet the expectations of his mother, a doctor, and his father, a high-tech executive, he began studying business administration immediately after finishing high school. He studied in Paris and New York, earned a master’s degree, and worked for three years in a large French bank in Prague.
“I returned to Paris at the age of 24, during a terribly cold winter, and I realized I did not want to stay there. The future that I saw in front of me didn’t particularly excite me, so I decided to take some time to think,” he says. He had visited Israel several times before, but when he landed here in 1998 he fell in love with the people, the atmosphere and energy, and decided to stay. For four years he worked in a firm that provided consulting services to high-tech companies, but at age 30 he dropped everything, traveled in South America, began writing a script and convinced Belaisch, his childhood friend from France, to move here and make the movie with him.
“It took us four years,” he recalls. “No one of the industry here would give us money because we had no experience and no one knew us.” They had to cobble together money from friends, recruit actors and staff willing to work for free, and wait months until they found theaters willing to screen their comedy, “Jerusalem Syndrome” (2008).
About a year and a half after completing the film, he decided to run the gauntlet again, this time without a partner. Once he had come up with the outline for the sting that’s at the heart of “Kidon,” he went to France and began to write. The film opens with archival footage from news programs on the day that the videos of the Dubai assassins were released. As the international media uproar dominates the screen, it turns out that Mossad officials have no clue who the people in the video are, and from there the plot thickens.
Nakache decided to turn to French Jewish producer Mintz, who loved the idea when they discussed it during a meeting at the Cannes Film Festival, and who recruited the other investors. Thus, the man who had made his first film under difficult conditions suddenly found himself overseeing 32 days of filming and a large, respectable cast, which, in addition to Refaeli, includes French actors Tomer Sisley and Lionel Abelanski, and Israelis Sasson Gabai, Shai Avivi, Reymond Amsalem, Menashe Noy and others.
What does Bar Refaeli really do?
Nakache’s two movies so far have been comedies, something not to be taken for granted on the local cinema scene, which tends to heavy, serious dramas.
“I think this is my way of expressing myself, both in life and in cinema,” he says. “Even when I tried to write a serious crime movie, I suddenly found myself writing funny scenes.
“I guess that among other things, I was influenced by the fact that in France, comic film is a highly admired and respectable genre,” he continued. “The most successful movies there are comedies. What’s more, though Israeli cinema tends to serious films, the people who live here are happy and smiling. To me that’s a very Israeli trait – dealing with difficulties through humor. One of the main reasons I started to make films at a late age was that I wanted to wake up in the morning with a smile.”
He admits to having had Refaeli in mind for the role of the seductive agent when he was writing the script. “It was clear that she was the best actress for this role,” he says. “Between the two of us, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if one day they discover that Bar really is a Mossad agent – after all, she’s well known, travels all over the world, and meets all kinds of people.
“When she understood that in this movie she wasn’t solely a temptress, because there’s a twist in the plot, she agreed immediately,” he recalled. “On the one hand, I’m sure she was nervous about appearing alongside great actors like Sasson Gabai, but on the other hand, I’m sure that they were also nervous, and concerned that they’d be remembered only as ‘the actors who played with Bar Refaeli’ in this movie,” he says, laughing.