Things Fall Apart

Director Eran Kolirin calls his next big thing, a new TV series airing this week, human and real, yet also surreal.

Actor Ezra Dagan sits in the desert and tries to stick a fork into a chicken that disappears. This scene, from the 1970s childrens' program "Rega im Dudley" ("A Moment with Dudley"), is "a crazy image - the kind that would not be accepted today," says Eran Kolirin. Kolirin, 34, director of the new series "Hamisha gvarim vehatuna" ("Five Men and a Wedding"), which will air on Channel 10 this Wednesday, remembers this scene well because for some it reason it frightened him as a kid, and also because he feels his new series echoes "the silliness of that unclear genre."

"Naturalism" is a recent phenomenon in Israel, comments Kolirin, who is aware of the fact that he has also contributed to this trend, at least in the world of television, with "Shabbat vehagim" ("Sabbaths and Holidays"), for which he wrote the screenplay. On the other hand, when considering "Nissim Aloni, Efraim Kishon, Shabi Gabison, I think the synthesis between the realist and the surrealist is something more attuned to Israeli television and film," he says. "That's why I loved the third season of 'Bat Yam-New York' the most," with its tendency toward surrealism. That is also where he intends to take his new series, which he directed with Arik Rotstein and wrote with Shai Kanot.

Kolirin explains all of this during a conversation around a week ago, a few hours after the broadcast of the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood. He didn't watch it. "Never in my life have I lost sleep to watch something on TV," he comments. And besides, "the Oscar ceremony is very boring."

Kolirin is director of "The Band's Visit," which was to have represented Israel at the ceremony and was disqualified at the last minute because there was not enough foreign-language dialogue in it. But he's already tired of talking about that. And he says he also enjoyed "Beaufort," which was nominated for an Oscar.

Not long ago Kolirin was in Europe and the United States to promote his film. What questions did they ask him most often? "Where did the idea for the film come from? How does one describe the political aspect of it? How did the casting go?" These are questions he recalls from the interviews. "In Geneva," he adds, "a reporter asked me 'is isolation disseminated in the world better than love is?'"

And what did you answer?

Kolirin: "In hindsight, I think yes."

Distorted expectations

Eran Kolirin's upcoming TV series was originally called "13 yamim" ("13 Days"), but it changed quite a bit during production, although less than "The Band's Visit" did, he says. Channel 10's decision to call it "Five Men and a Wedding," which sounds like a bad Hebrew translation of the clever name of a British film, generates misleading expectations. Due to the similarity to the name of that film - "Four Weddings and a Funeral" - and because the series is about weddings, couples and love, it sounds as if it is a romantic comedy.

"This is an incorrect key, or at least not the only prism through which to see the series," explains Kolirin. He is also put off by comparisons to "Ramzor" ("Traffic Light"), a show about three men and a wedding, which airs almost simultaneously on Channel 2, and in which Nir Levy plays the same sort of character he portrays in "Five Men."

"It's not a comedy series of laughter, sunflower seeds and beer," says Kolirin. "It features a harried man who feels that life is closing in on him. It is meant to be a human series of absurd humor. Each episode is a day in his life, and in each one his condition intensifies. There is a vicious cycle that takes place in them from which it is hard to escape."

The hero of the series is Yair (Yehezkel Lazorov), who is about to get married. At the offices of the rabbinate, he sees a photo of a past love; she is also about to get married and he decides to stop her - and himself. As the series progresses, it becomes unclear whether the former love, Sharon, exists, or is the product of his feverish imagination, a sort of symbol of all the good things he is conceding. The series segues into a strange surreal scene where among other things a Hummer drives in reverse, crushes a car in which the hero and one of his friends is sitting, and continues along its way.

"It's not at all a romantic series - on the contrary it's alienated," the director says, refining its description. "It covers a broader area. It is about a man whose life falls apart in the pursuit of something that he himself doesn't understand. It creates escalation to a disconnected and surrealistic world, like a hallucination."

One of Kolirin's favorite moments occurs in the show's first episode, when Yair bumps into his elementary school teacher, and tells her: "You told us to believe in ourselves. I tried and it didn't work."

Kolirin is an autodidact (who is currently engrossed in reading all the works of S.Y. Agnon), who ponders every detail (almost to the point of exaggeration, so it seems) and is very sensitive. Despite his glorious success, three prizes in Cannes, and across-the-board critical acclaim for "The Band's Visit" in Israel and abroad ("If I hadn't won prizes in Cannes, the film would've been a lot less well received here," he surmises), he sinks into a bad mood when he finds out that something negative was written about the film, which was previously unknown to him.

He says he identifies to a large degree with the hero of his series: "Yair is spoiled, focused on himself to an unbearable degree. He always thinks that he deserves more. He is engaged in a desperate attempt to free himself from mediocrity," an attempt for which he is also punished. Kolirin himself "has a lot of cynicism with respect to this dream of leaving behind mediocrity, and toward the idea that everyone is depressed." The fact that Yair hurts his beloved for no good reason, decides at the last minute that he doesn't want to get married, complains needlessly, suffers in his job, makes the wrong decisions, gets himself into the wrong situations - all of these make him human in Kolirin's perception. "I like that no one knows how to deal with him, that they squirm uncomfortably in their seats while watching," he adds.

A little anecdote which Kolirin tells shows that there is a basis for his identification with the character. At the height of the success of "The Band's Visit," Serbian director Emir Kusturica himself phoned Kolirin and invited him and his film to his village in Serbia for a private screening, together with "the Romanian and the Turk," as Kusturica refers to Cristian Mungiu, director of "4, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," and Fatih Akin, director of "The Edge of Heaven." "We'll arrange a festival, it will be nice," suggested Kusturica.

"The village is in a nature reserve in Serbia, the hospitality was grand. It mesmerizes you," Kolirin explains. But when he arrived, he says he was confused, felt lost and, mostly, was hungry. "I arrived in the village, it looked like bed-and-breakfasts in the Galilee. I didn't have a chance to exchange money at the airport, and I didn't understand where I was supposed to eat. I entered a wooden church, just then I was reading [Agnon's] 'A Simple Story.' It didn't feel good, I felt imprisoned."

Jail in the suburbs

At the beginning of the new series' first episode, Yair goes to see a potential apartment in the suburbs for him and his lover. He gets a choking feeling and goes outside, but because the buildings are all so similar to each other, he doesn't find the apartment he is seeking. Instead he comes across another apartment, which provides him with a glimpse of what he might become if he continues along this path: a man who appears to be imprisoned and seems to be calling for help.

This is a particularly important scene for Kolirin, who says that in a future film, he would like to "address the architecture of the suburbs." He doesn't really know how to describe this yet, and uses mainly images: "My brother lives in Ramat Hahayal. We go to Barburger - big places, insane noise, SUVs are parked outside, and there's all that meat. I'm not vegetarian, but what's with all this meat?

"Yair's fears exist in the world," he explains. "The only difference between me and Yair is that he goes to check if what they say about him on television - this screenplay fiction about the existence of the possibility of getting out - is real."

Kolirin doesn't really know what goes on on TV. He may have written "Sabbaths and Holidays," episodes for the first season of "Betipul" ("In Treatment") and now "Five Men" - but he is not an ardent watcher. He believes "it's important to bring things from beyond the discipline of television, otherwise you're just recreating the iconography. You can derive inspiration from books and music."

For example, he cites Agnon ("It's really addictive. After another four or five books, I'll have read all his works"), jazz ("sometimes for a few moments, I understand it") and cantorial music ("It throbs in your blood, and resonates as something that is familiar").

There are other characters in the new series apart from Yair (Lazarov, who plays him, appears totally by chance in the Tel Aviv cafe where our interview is taking place, just before Kolirin talks about his identification with the character and about the fact that it is unclear what is true and what is not in the series; the actor hugs him and disappears). Ganem (Erez Ben Haroush), is a kind of drugged guy who's been to India, who is willing to accept the open relationship that his partner (Maya Meron) forces on him and which only she takes advantage of. Yaniv (Miki Geva), married and the father of a son, suspects that his wife Lilach (Ruti Borenstein) is cheating on him, and therefore follows and photographs her, and Johnny (Sami Houri), the most extreme character, is the boyfriend of Sharon, Yair's ex-lover - a rich macho type, who carries a weapon and likes the tango.

"Sami's character is engrossed in the life he never had," says Kolirin, and then mentions Dana Ivgy's character, which expresses that thought out loud. "I constantly see on television here that everyone is carousing with everyone. Sin city, cocaine," she says in the third episode. "I've been roaming for two days now like this and where is it? All I see is sadness."

Kolirin also says he wants to expose the fiction that everyone is always enjoying himself: "We are, after all, horses that are led to our fate with two blinders over our eyes that demarcate the path for us."

Tawfiq, the character from "The Band's Visit," is more endearing than Yair, who is focused on himself.

"That's because Tawfiq is received from the perspective of the end of the story and Yair is encountered in the series just at the beginning of the story. Tawfiq is a very difficult man, not nice, who gets the band lost. He oppresses Khaled. At the end of the film, he comes to an understanding out of a dramatic movement. He doesn't go through a process because that is another screenplay fiction; no one really goes through a process.

"I don't like to tell my script-writing students the Oded Burla story about the turtle and the scorpion, which I read to my son. The scorpion is constantly saying: 'I'm going to sting you, I'm going to pinch you.' He meets the turtle, who tells him he is insolent. The scorpion realizes he can't sting the turtle because of his thick shell. If this were just another bad story with a good ending, it would end with 'and ever since then, the scorpion didn't sting any more.' In this story, he continues to say: 'Make way - I'm going to pinch and sting,' and carries on, and the turtle remains in his place, inside his home. The scorpion didn't change, there were no processes, only the perspective changed."