The Highs and Lows of Assi Dayan

In 2009, he won an Ophir lifetime achievement award and suffered a massive heart attack and underwent angioplasty.

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A photograph of Assi Dayan in 'Operation Thunderbolt.'Credit: Yoni Hamenachem

Assi Dayan, a director, screenwriter and actor who had a hand in many of Israeli cinema’s classics, died Thursday at his home in north Tel Aviv.

Dayan, the son of former defense minister, foreign minister and army chief of staff Moshe Dayan, was 68.

The younger Dayan served as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces but did not follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead, following his military service, he studied philosophy and English Literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

He sometimes lived the life of the dissolute artist, reaching a low point in 2006, when he was hospitalized after injecting cocaine. In 2009 he suffered a massive heart attack and underwent angioplasty.

In March 2009 he was arrested on suspicion of abusing his partner; after less than a day he was rearrested for violating his house arrest. He received a one-year suspended sentence.

His high point may have come in 1992, when he directed “Life According to Agfa,” considered one of the most important works in Israeli cinema. The film describes a night at a Tel Aviv pub that serves as a microcosm of Israeli society. “Agfa” won an honorable mention at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Yoram Kislev produced Dayan’s much-admired film trilogy “Life According to Agfa,” “An Electric Blanket Named Moshe” (1995) and “The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum” (1997). Dayan also starred in “Mr. Baum,” about a man who has 92 minutes to live.

“Over the years I have worked with many people who direct films in Israel, but I can tell you that of them all, the only genuine director was Assi,” Kislev said. “He was the only one who saw things the way a filmmaker should see them. He had a marvelous ability to see situations and scenes.”

According to actress Gila Almagor, who starred in “Life According to Agfa,” Dayan “was not only a great genius of Israeli cinema, but of Israeli culture in general. Assi was a tremendous artist – multidisciplinary. I’m sure now they’ll also uncover his prose, poems and articles.”

Dayan won many Israeli awards for his cinematic work, including best director and best screenwriter for “Life According to Agfa,” which also was named best film. He was named best screenwriter for “An Electric Blanket Named Moshe,” best screenwriter and best actor for “Mr. Baum,” and best supporting actor for “Comrade.”

At the end of this month an American remake of “Mr. Baum,” called “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn,” is scheduled to open in the United States. The film, whose cast includes Robin Williams and Mila Kunis, is directed by Phil Alden Robinson, the director of “All of Me” and “Field of Dreams.”

In 2006 Dayan received the best-actor award from the Israeli Academy of Film and Television for his role as psychologist Reuven Dagan in the series “Betipul” (“In Treatment”), and the Ophir Award for his role in the film “Things Behind the Sun.” In 2008 he won his ninth award from the academy, for his role in the second season of “Betipul.”

In 2009 he won an Ophir lifetime achievement award; in 1998 he received a lifetime achievement award at the Jerusalem International Film Festival.

From bourekas films to John Huston

Dayan was born in 1945 where his father grew up, Moshav Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley. Assi was the youngest son of Moshe Dayan and Ruth Dayan (nee Schwartz), who founded the Maskit fashion house.

Assi Dayan began his acting career in 1967 in the Yossi Milo film “He Walked Through the Fields” based on the book by Moshe Shamir. All told, Dayan appeared in around 50 films and television series. He directed 16 films since 1973. In 1969 he starred in John Huston’s “A Walk with Love and Death.”

He made his directorial debut in “Invitation to Murder” in 1973. In the 1970s he directed a batch of so-called bourekas films – melodramas and comedies dealing mainly with Israelis with North African or Middle Eastern roots. These include “Beautiful Troubles” (1976), “Givat Halfon Doesn’t Answer” (1976), “The Hit” (1979) and “King for a Day” (1982). “Givat Halfon Doesn’t Answer,” a comedy of errors on an army base on the Egyptian border, became a cult classic.

Dayan acted in many films, including “Beyond the Walls,” “Time of Favor” and “Tribal Campfire,” as well as in television series and programs such as “The Brown Girls,” and “Almost Certainly.” In the TV film

“The Silence of the Sirens,” about the Yom Kippur War, Dayan played his father.

Dayan also wrote highly popular songs, including “Frecha” from the film “The Hit” and “Bamakom Hazeh” from “Life According to Agfa.”

In 2004 he directed “The Gospel According to God,” in which he played God, who tries to bring the message of redemption via Jesus at the end of the millennium. The film was not a success.

In December 2012 Channel 8 aired Dayan’s documentary biographical series “Life as a Rumor,” co-created by Dayan. In the series, Dayan spoke about the scars left by his complex relationship with his father.

Aside from cinema and writing, Dayan also painted and staged several exhibitions of his work, the most recent in 2012 in Tel Aviv’s Arsuf Gallery. He is survived by four children; he was married four times.

Next month, Eyal Shirai was to begin preproduction for a new movie by Dayan; filming was scheduled for July.

“It was supposed to be a film he wrote about himself; he would also direct and star in it,” Shirai said. “He called it ‘My Life and Other Lies’ — he was going to tell the story of his loneliness and his longing for the love he no longer had. He did all that in his script with crazy humor while making fun of himself.”

Uri Sivan was the main screenwriter and a coproducer of “Betipul.”

“Assi came to audition for the series like anyone else, didn’t make a big deal about it, and after 30 seconds he got bored with the text and decided to say whatever he felt like — presumably to treat the patient the way he, Assi, felt like it,” Sivan said.

“It was totally wrong, not psychological, not the right way, but there was empathy. We realized that despite his image and everything that went with it, he was a very empathetic person. It was wonderful to work with him. It’s surprising what a responsible person he was – hour after hour, seriousness was seriousness and laughter was laughter.”

Assi Dayan.Credit: Photos by Tali Shani, Assaf Kutin/GPO, Alex Levac, Nir Keidar, and Pinn Hans/GPO