Nadav Levitan, 1945-2010

Director and screenwriter Nadav Levitan passed away Saturday night at the age of 64 in Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva from a lung ailment. He left behind his wife, the singer Chava Alberstein, two children and four grandchildren. His funeral was held yesterday in Ramat Hasharon.

Levitan was born in 1945 on Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk and after his military service left the kibbutz to study philosophy, literature and theater at Tel Aviv University. He worked for two years as an editor at the Maariv newspaper, published poems and stories in assorted journals, taught acting and the history of theater at the Beit Zvi and Nissan Nativ acting schools, and began his directing career in theater. A few of the plays he directed in the early 1970s became hits, including "Hasatan Ve'eshet Ha'ikar," "Ani Pashosh" and the comedy "Shir Eres". At the same time, Levitan worked at Army Radio as an editor of culture and entertainment programs.

Levitan moved over to film and television in the mid-1970s, when he wrote and directed two short films, "Isha Bagan" and "Hahutza". Following that he wrote and directed eight documentary films for the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Israel Film Service, and starting in 1980 he wrote and directed dramas for film and television. Simultaneously, he taught film at the Beit Zvi and Camera Obscura schools, and published several books (including "Ma'achal Ta'ava" and "Politica Mishpahtit").

Over the years, Levitan created 11 dramas: "An Intimate Story" (1981); "The 17th Bride" (1984); "Girls" (1985, a box office success whose script was written by Assi Dayan); "Stalin's Disciples" (1988, which was shown at the Cannes Festival); "Hahaverim Shel Yael" (1991); "Retzah Beshabbat Baboker" (1992); "Groupie" (1993, which was the first film to feature actress Mili Avital and was also a commercial success); "No Names on the Doors" (1996, which was screened at the Berlin Festival); "Aviv" (1997); "Frank Sinatra is Dead" (1998) and "Ha'ahim Mevorach" (2000).

Levitan met his future wife, Alberstein, on the set of his film "An Intimate Story," in which she starred, and the creative collaboration between them continued over the years. Alberstein also appeared in "No Names on the Doors" and composed the soundtrack for the films "Stalin's Disciples" and "Groupie." Levitan wrote the lyrics for the songs on her albums "End of the Holiday," "Human Nature" and "Coconut."

Local theater critics did not always lavish praise on Levitan's works, but in 2006 the Israeli Film Academy decided to present him with its lifetime achievement award. Eitan Even, who produced "An Intimate Story" with Nissim Levy, says that Levitan "was an artist with a very large spirit, and as a person he was a mensch, a modest and humble person who is very easy to like and in whose company it is very pleasant to be. He was open, attentive and offered his opinion to those around him. His opinion was always important to those who worked with him, and it was easy to accept.

"On the other hand, he was flexible, and when he realized that it was not possible to do something, he could suggest alternative options that could be done - and not every director is able to do that."

Even though he left Kfar Masaryk after his army service, the kibbutz continued to star in many of Levitan's works. Levy, co-producer of "An Intimate Story" and a friend of Levitan, recalls that the film was based on a short story written by Levitan; it was filmed in its entirety on Kibbutz Einat. "He was a very sensitive person and smart, and forged many of his films out of his experiences on the kibbutz," says Levy. "He criticized the kibbutz, but also was deeply connected to it. It is especially apparent in his film 'Stalin's Disciples,' because after all he was one of them. He was very deeply entrenched in this environment."

Some years later, Levy also produced the film "Girls." According to him, "we thought what could be the most Israeli thing and immediately said the army. But because there were already films about the army, we decided to go with the angle of women in the army. We had Assi Dayan write the script and the result was a very commercial film, which we made using a naive approach, not a critical one, and the best actresses at the time competed to get the lead role. So the two films we did together were very different from each other, and still Nadav had a good handle on both. He was not a star director, he just made films."

Actor Amos Lavi, who appeared in three of Levitan's films, "Girls," "Frank Sinatra is Dead" and "Ha'ahim Mevorach," relates that Levitan was a director "who is fun to work with. He didn't force anything on you, would consult and ask your opinion. Twenty-nine years ago I worked with him on 'Girls,' which was a box office smash. In that film I played a friend of Hana Azoulay-Hasfari (who had the lead role), whom she does not want. I asked Nadav why she doesn't want this guy and we thought about it together. I suggested to him that the guy should stutter. He asked me to demonstrate for him. I showed him, and right away he said 'you sold me.' Since then our paths have crossed. He was a very noble person, let the actor express himself, bring himself in; he was open, attentive, pleasant, gentle and intelligent. His death is a great loss for Israeli film."

Film researcher and director Yehuda (Judd) Neeman says that "Stalin's Disciples" is, in his opinion, one of the most important films made in Israel during the era of political films, in the 1980s. "It was the first film to look ironically at Stalinism and the kibbutz movement," says Neeman. "Nadav took characters from the actual fabric of the kibbutz he knew, little by little wove the pieces, and at the end of the film there is the charming moment when one of the heroes looks at the sky, doesn't believe that this era has ended, looks at the moon and instead of seeing the crescent, sees the hammer and sickle. In my eyes, this is a brilliant cinematic touch and also a statement of political film, which was at its peak here in those days."

"In this film, Nadav cast a glance at a subject that was still untouched, the Zionist dream and the socialist utopia and its demise," says Neeman. "It's a political film, but there is a lot of heart and charm in it, and a touch of fantastic realism that did not exist here in those days. He returned to the topic in 'No Names on the Doors,' this time in retrospect. In this film he goes back to the place he visited in such a critical manner, but this time he comes back full of compassion, warmth and humanity. This was his magic touch in his humane films."

"He was a man with vast knowledge of all areas of culture and art," Katriel Schory, director general of the Israel Film Fund and a longtime friend of Levitan, said yesterday. "He was very knowledgeable about broad areas of cultural interests, and he was extremely sensitive to people and stories, and his cinematic work had an incredible sensitivity to people."