More Than Meets the Eye

Previously unknown Daniel Syrkin won best director at the Israeli Academy Awards this year with his first feature-length film. 'Out of Sight' opens in theaters tonight.

One of the big surprises at the Israel Film Academy Awards ceremony some five months ago was that Daniel Syrkin took the best director prize for "Out of Sight" ("Lemarit Ain.") The surprise was not because the film was not worthy; on the contrary, in the days before the ceremony rumors were circulating that it would take best film award. The surprise was because Syrkin is an anonymous figure: "Out of Sight," which opens tonight at just six theaters - four in Tel Aviv, one in Jerusalem and one in Haifa - is his first feature-length film.

"Out of Sight," which participated in the official competition at the last Haifa Film Festival, is just 83 minutes long - a refreshing change given the numerous long films of recent years.

Right from the very beginning, the viewer enters a dark world. The first scene takes place in Ben-Gurion airport: Yaara, a young blind woman (played by Tali Sharon), returns from abroad following the suicide of her beloved cousin. The quiet in the grieving family's apartment seems natural to her at first, but slowly she begins to suspect that something terrible prompted her cousin to commit suicide.

Syrkin and Noa Greenberg, who wrote the screenplay, take the viewer through a series of flashbacks to the childhood of Yaara and her cousin. Suddenly the colors on the screen change - they become alive and more intense and the gloom in which the present is described disappears. The viewer smiles at the sight of two girls swimming in a pool, or holding hands and approaching, with the blind girl actually leading, the edge of a dramatic cliff.

The two, played by Avigayil Harari and Hadas Yaron, look happy, connected to and fond of each other.

However, "Out of Sight" is a film about lies and secrets - the reality beneath the surface is completely different than it seems. The gloomy colors, the unsaid things and primarily, the gradual revelation of what led to the cousin's suicide - all of these create tension and even a feeling of danger, which reaches a climax when it is revealed that the cousin was raped as a child by a relative.

Filmed in 20 days

"Out of Sight" was filmed in only 20 days and had a modest budget of half a million dollars. Its limited resources highlight its quality, which is further emphasized against the backdrop of the bad year for Israeli film in 2005. Greenberg, the scriptwriter, who lives in New York, is "a quiet woman-girl with depth and darkness in her writing," says Syrkin.

Several years ago, she received praise for her script for the drama "Al Hakav," (Round Trip) directed by Shahar Rozen, which describes the meeting of a female Israeli bus driver and a female foreign worker and the ensuing romantic relationship.

In "Out of Sight," Greenberg chose to deal with rape within the family. Syrkin felt uncomfortable talking about the artistic treatment of a loaded subject and not because of concern about public relations people, who are worried that the subject will deter viewers.

To a large extent, says Syrkin, he acted as a professional on the set, focused on the technical aspects of directing and even though he identified with the characters and created the environment where they were operating, he left the delving into their souls to Greenberg.

Unlike other Israeli directors, he does not think he knows it all. "I also get annoyed when scriptwriters want to direct their films, and that's why I have to be modest enough to let the scriptwriter do his work," he says.

Even though sexual abuse is the subject that motivates the film, Syrkin feels that at the heart of "Out of Sight" is the story of the friendship between the two girls, one blind and the other seeing, as well as the denial of the cousin's mother, who refuses to comprehend what is happening to her daughter.

The film features Assi Dayan, Sandra Sade and Yisrael Poliakov. "I wanted Sandra from the start," says Syrkin. "She has something classic, European about her. Apart from that, she is very beautiful and striking and she has a strong screen presence, even though in the role she plays - the mother of the young woman who commits suicide, which is a very restrained role - she had very little material to work with.

"As for Assi, who plays the father of the suicide victim, everyone warned me he's difficult to work with, that I should be careful, but it wasn't really a nightmare to work with him. He is a professional, does what he is asked and gives of himself and offers suggestions. All he needs is for them to give him a quiet room on the set so he can rest from the day's work. He would arrive each morning prepared and knew all of his texts by heart.

"Warmer ties developed between me and Poli, who plays the father of the blind girl, Assi Dayan's brother, because he is a very open person."

Sacrifices for art

Syrkin, whose family immigrated to Israel from Moscow when he was 1, will celebrate his 35th birthday tomorrow. Before "Out of Sight" he directed the dramas "Two Minutes from Paradise" ("Shtey Dakot Miparadis") and "Hallelujah," worked as a director on Guy Pines' program and directed "Science News" on Channel 8 and the Children's Channel News.

He is currently directing two programs: one on Channel 2 which features an honest man who goes into politics and becomes corrupt, and the other on the satellite station's documentary film channel, about living things and their mates.

He is married to Maya, who also studied film but doesn't work in the field, and is father of two girls. His father, Lev, is an artist who does stained glass works, wall murals and mosaics and one of his sisters lives in the United States and is specializing in Russian art.

Syrkin says the fact that he grew up in a cultured home greatly affected his choices in life. "My father is an artist, who was very well-known in Moscow," he says. "He creates monumental works, 30 meters by 3 meters in dimension that no one knew about even though they hang in factories, dining halls and executive offices. He never gave up his art, not even when there was nothing to eat at home and Mom had to be the sole income earner, he was still unwilling to teach in a school or work as a guard.

"The fact that I came from such a home, where at lunch we discussed art, made me into who I am. When your role model is a father who is an artist, and we had to sacrifice a lot for the sake of his art, you apparently don't have many choices but to go into art yourself."

At the beginning of the week, in an interview with Ynet, the journalist Natasha Mosgovia, an anchor on the Channel 2 news program, referred to the chilling reviews she had received and said: "They didn't give Russia even a single day of grace." Syrkin understands this comment. "When I was a child, they would call me smelly Russian in school," he recalls. "I understand what Mosgovia is going through. Israeli society feels threatened by the Russians. A million people arrived here with their own language and created for themselves a cultural ghetto. But I believe it will end. In the coming elections there won't even be a Russian party and from year to year, the young speak less Russian and become rooted in the local culture."