Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mary Elizabeth Winstead Is "Alex of Venice" at TFF

Playing at Tribeca Film Festival

Mary Elizabeth Winstead Is Alex of Venice at TFF

(from Sag Harbor Online 4/24/14)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Mary Elizabeth Winstead Photo: DP

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Chris Messina
Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Chris Messina
You can catch the final screening of Alex of Venice at the Tribeca Film Festival this Saturday at 6:30 at the SVA theater on 23rd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.  The impressive directorial debut of actor Chris Messina, a native of Newport, is a character piece about a workaholic environmental attorney in L.A., Alex who lives in Venice, California.  When Alex’s husband George (Messina) suddenly leaves her, she is forced to pay more attention to their shy son Dakota (Skylar Gaertner) and her aging actor father Roger (Don Johnson). Still neglecting her son, she enlists the help of her irresponsible, free-spirited sister Lily (Katie Nehra) around the house while she deals with the biggest case of her career and has an affair with the man she is fighting in court, Frank (Derek Luke)  Alex is played by one of my favorite actresses, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who made a splash as an alcoholic teacher in #Smashed. On Saturday I spoke to Winstead about the film and her character.
Danny Peary: I thought you deserved a lot of awards for your performance in Smashed. That might have been the best performance of 2012.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Wow, thank you.
DP: Your characters in Smashed and Alex of Venice have no self-awareness. Did you recognize that similarity?
MEW: It’s funny, but I don’t think I actually compared them in that way.  But it’s true. They’re both in denial about their own lives and not really looking at themselves.
DP: They can’t fix themselves, or make no attempt to do it.
MEW: That’s right.  Certainly Alex through most of the movie is just in complete denial about who she is and all the problems she has.
DP: In the press notes, Chris Messina says this is a slice-of-life drama.  That means characters don’t have to change.  But the movie is about change. Everyone changes for the better.
MEW: It’s one of the major themes of the movie.
DP: When does Alex have her pivotal moment of change?.
MEW: There are several little moments.  Her relationship with Frank (Derek Luke) is a huge change for her, because she married when she was young.  But her internal change doesn’t happen until the end of the movie, when she kind of comes in and talks to her son, Dakota (Skylar Gaertner).  That to me is the moment when she says, “I’ve been so much in denial of my life.” During the early midlife crisis that she is going through, she becomes focused on everything other what she should really be focusing on. Ultimately, she should focus on her relationship with her son and her estranged husband George (Chris Messina), whatever that relationship is going to turn into.
DP: That’s interesting that you say that, because how they are now is not set in stone.
MEW: Even if they don’t get back together, they recognize that they have a son and must look after him together.  Ultimately her relationship with Dakota is going to be the most important thing to her. After George leaves, she has to be a parent alone and at first she’s flailing about and hitting the wall and not being attentive to him.
DP: Well, you know the last line of the movie.
MEW (smiling): “I should have listened.” Yeah. That is a great encompassing line for who she’s been.
DP: About a third of the way through the movie I was liking your performance, but I was asking myself, “Do I like her character?” When you read the script for the first time, did you like Alex?
MEW: I really liked her in the script and as I played her, But there were a few moments when I was thinking, “I hope people stick with her through some of this stuff, because she’s really high-strung and nervous for a good majority of the movie.” She’s not connected, not really present, and making bad choices as well.
DP: Really bad choices.
MEW: There were a couple of really bad choices she makes but I’m not sure Chris and I realized they could potentially turn the audience against her until the movie was over.
DP: Actors are usually protective of their characters, so were you seeing good stuff in her?
MEW: Absolutely. She’s so relatable, in terms of people that I know and love. I have a really big family, so there’s all sorts of types of people in my family. So there are Alexes in my family. Especially when you’re a mother and you’re very busy and  just trying to keep your life together, you don’t want to look at or think about or address things that aren’t going well.  Because there’s too much going on. I think that’s easy to relate to, particularly for women today who are trying to balance so many things in their lives. Alex, in some cases, would rather things just go on in their own broken ways because it’s easier than addressing the real problems.
DP: Something she must do to move forward in her life is to realize that she’s no longer in love with her husband, and vice versa.
MEW: Oh, absolutely. That’s a hard thing to learn. I think Alex and George haven’t really been in love in a long time, even if she never admitted that to herself.
DP: In the scene when George breaks up with Alex as she sits on the porch in front of him, you had tears in your eyes. Was that a powerful scene to shoot?
MEW: It was incredible. We did it so many ways.   I didn’t really start out intending to be as emotional as it was. It was one of my audition scenes, and it was less emotional in the audition.  At first she is so in denial as he breaks up with her that it wasn’t really hitting her. Doing the scene with Chris, and having him acting with me and directing me at the same time, was very interesting because he started going completely off-script and had George say things to Alex that were heartbreaking.  What he said was really sad and mean, but it was really truthful. That immediately set off the waterworks, There were emotional takes, where I was sobbing at the end of it, but we knew Alex couldn’t have that moment so early in the movie. So I think we found something that is poignant, but not devastating because she is not realizing the weight of what is really happening to her. She has denial.
DP: Reading the script, did you think Alex would end up with Frank, the most self-aware character in the film?
MEW: In the scene with the Ouija board, Alex tells Lily that since George has left, she wonders if she will ever have sex again. I think it’s a nice moment because Alex shows her insecurity, which she never really revealed up to that point because she’s really trying to keep it all together. She shows that she is insecure about who she is and where she’s going and will end up. Frank is an exciting person who comes to her life.  He is the most self-aware character in the film.  I don’t think Alex is thinking about messing up her work life, I think she’s just allowing herself to feel something she hasn’t felt in a long time.  With Frank, she tries to be kind to herself.  She wants to give herself a little bit of freedom to explore something new romantically. That’s how I feel, but I think there’s several different interpretations.  When I watch the scenes between Alex and Frank, I realize that’s my favorite stuff in the movie. Doing those scenes with Derek Luke just felt so different from the scenes I did with anybody else.
DP: You have many two-character scenes in this movie. Alex is with George, Roger, Dakota, Frank, and her sister Lily (Katie Nehra).
MEW: Yeah, it was like ten different mini-movies for me.
DP: With different styles of acting.
MEW: Yeah, absolutely. Which was so much fun to do.  I got to show so many sides of Alex through these different relationships.  I love the scene with Lily and Alex and the Ouija board because the mood we created felt so real to me, like when I’m with my real sisters and we have wine after our parents have gone to sleep. My sisters don’t talk about double penetration necessarily, but the feeling and mood in that scene was spot on. It was fake wine but we felt drunk and giddy.
DP: I thought it was brilliant to cast Don Johnson as Alex’s dad Roger, an aging actor who is the early stages of Alzheimer’s but is trying out for a part in The Cherry Orchard.
MEW: Chris was asking us, “What do you think about Don Johnson for the dad, and we said, “That’s brilliant.” I think he really rose to the occasion and gave a really heart-breaking performance. You never know what to expect from someone who’s an icon, and he was just really great to work with. There’s nothing PC about Roger, and I love that.  We have a similar sense of humor, let’s put it that way. It was one of my favorite days on the set.  He was so giving to everyone and really taught me a lot.
DP: I wasn’t surprised by how good and natural you are in this film because I’d seen Smashed. But I was surprised by how good you were in that film.  Do you have different fans from your early horror movies, Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and the types of films your making lately, Smashed and now Alex of Venice? Or do fans not realize you’re the same person in all of those films?
MEW: I really don’t know, to be honest. I did several horror movies, so they started to connect the dots. I think one of the reasons why I get to be so anonymous is that no one knows that I’ve been in more than one movie. They always think it’s somebody new. It’s kind of nice.
DP: I saw most of your early movies without realizing they all starred the same actress, you. It wasn’t until The Thing that I knew who you were.  Was that a pivotal movie for you, in terms of audience?
MEW: I’ll always really love that role.  It was not a movie that did well necessarily, but I was attracted to the idea of playing a smart action heroine at the time. I still am.  I loved the character, and the project, and the director [Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.] and it’s still something that I look back on fondly.
DP: You had the scream queen designation, and all the sudden you’re playing your roles in a low-keyed manner, like a female Steve McQueen almost.  You hold back and give caring, nonshowy performances. Were you always capable of that, or did you all the sudden become a really good actress?
MEW: I was always suited to play these roles but when you start out you get boxed into a certain type of role.  People thought, “Oh, that’s what she is suited for.” They thought I was meant to be an action heroine or a horror scream queen, but I always approached those roles in the same way I approached Alex in Venice and Smashed.  So even when I look back on those films, I’m proud of the work that I did in them. But maybe I just didn’t have the freedom to explore as broad a range of emotions as I do in the films I’ve done of late. As I’ve gotten older and gone further in my career I make the effort to just bring myself into the part as much as I can and know that’s a good thing. I think when I was young I thought that wasn’t really acting. I thought I had to create this mysterious person who’s totally different from me and that was the only way I was going to be a real actor.  As I got older I realized that what people want to see is the actress and they want to see her personality and her heart and their soul.  That’s actually what makes people relate to my characters. I’m just really thankful that people like Chris Messina watch me closely and appreciate all those weird things I do in front of the camera.  Because when I watch my performance I see all these faces I was making without realizing it!

Japan's Greatest Monster Breathes Once Again

Godzilla: The Japanese Original Is Playing in Theaters

Japan's Greatest Monster Breathes Once Again

(from Sag Harbor Online 4/16/14)

By Danny Peary
You can already see the trailer on television for the latest epic version of Godzilla that opens theatrically on May 16.  More interesting is that from April 18 to 24 the Film Forum on Houston Street in New York City will be showingGodzilla: The Japanese Original, a sixtieth anniversary restoration, including new subtitles, of Japan’s most successful monster movie, Ishiro Honda’s Gojira.
The new American, 3-D blockbuster, which stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen and Bryan Cranston, is the second remake of Terry Morse’s familiar 1956 American film, Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, starring a pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr as a US reporter in Japan. Burr’s Steve Martin serves as our eyes as a 400-foot-tall prehistoric beast is awakened by atomic testing in nearby Bikini Atoll.  He marches through Tokyo, spewing his atomic breath, crushing buildings, and killing thousands of people.  When all weapons prove ineffective, a scientist (Daisuke Senzawa) must decide whether to use a terrible weapon he invented, the Oxygen Destroyer.
Honda was credited as codirector because all the non-Burr footage came from his two-year-old Japanese version. To make room for Burr in his 80-minute version and to excise a strong anti-nuclear subtext, Morse deleted 40 minutes from the Japanese version including the opening credits; a Japanese newsman; Tokyo commuters wisecracking about surviving yet another disaster; a volatile session in the Japanese parliament; and more scenes with Takashi Shimura, best known for his starring roles in Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru and not the Seven Samurai.
Because of Burr’s wooden performance, the sloppy dubbing of the Japanese actors with silly English dialogue, and an optimistic ending, Morse’s film was best suited for juvenile sci-fi movie fans.  It wasn’t until 1982 that Gojira 2 played in America and we could see that Honda intended his film to be a solemn, sobering adult movie that was a scathing indictment of the Bomb and how America brought WWII to an end.
This is some of what I wrote back then:
“It may be surprising to some that in Japan Gojira is regarded with the same awe and pride as Americans feel toward King Kong (1933). (King Kong was the major influence on Eiji Tsuburaya, Toho Studios’ special effects master.)  Not only did the first Japanese monster film cost thirty times that of the average Japanese film of the day and break all attendance records during its much ballyhooed November 1954 premiere engagement (a Gojiraradio play had heightened anticipation), but it also received much serious critical attention in its native country.  As Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie point out in The Japanese Film, even those who criticized “the picture’s exploitation of the atom-bomb scare, praised it for an ‘intellectual content usually lacking in foreign pictures of the same genre.’” It won many awards, including the Japanese Film Technique Award for Tsuburaya.
“What makes both versions interesting is that, unlike all those giant creatures of American science fiction films of the fifties, Godzilla was no simply a bad consequence of foolhardy nuclear testing.  The merciless monster which kills and destroys with machine-like precision is meant to be the embodiment of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  This horror film gave Americans one of their first opportunities to see Japanese rage and disgust over what America did to them in August 1945.  Morse’s version makes deletions to cover up references to damage done by the A-Bomb.  But, ironically, he makes changes that further identify Godzilla with the A-Bomb.  Significantly, in his version characters die from radiation poisoning.
Oddly, Morse has Burr (in cleverly edited sequences) tell us Tokyo is evacuated before Godzilla’s attack on the city, implying that the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were prepared for the attack.  Knowing this wasn’t the case, Honda didn’t evacuate Tokyo in his film, and inadvertently stuck Morse with footage that makes no sense in the U.S. version–after Godzilla leaves, Tokyo hospitals are full of people who were supposed to have been out of town. The Honda version ends gloomily, the Morse version optimistically: “the whole world could wake up and live again.”  That the scientist uses his Oxygen Destroyer on moral grounds in both versions is philosophically confusing because it backs up America’s claim that it used the A-Bomb to end the war quickly and stop the killing immediately.  But only Honda’s version makes a plea for peace and no more nuclear-bomb testing. Too bad nobody outside of Japan was listening.”
Showtimes for this landmark of the kaiju eiga (the ever-popular Japanese monster movie) will be daily at 1:15, 3:15, 5:15, 7:30, & 9:45.

Truffaut's "Small Change" Has a Big Heart

Playing in Theater

Truffaut's Small Change Has a Big Heart

(from Sag Harbor Online 4/13/14)

By Danny Peary
The much-touted “Tout Truffaut” festival at the Film Forum in New York City ends this Thursday.  Every Francois Truffaut film is a “must-see” film, but I’d like to call attention to one little gem in particular that often gets overlooked.  If Tuesday the 15th turns out to be a taxing day, make it a point to make the trek to Houston Street to see Small Change, a title that refers to kids and not what you have left in your pocket after dealing with the IRS.  No, it’s not a history-of-film-changer, like Truffaut’s highly autobiographical, The 400 Blows, which helped usher in the French New Wave, or as powerful as his deeply personal The Wild Child. However, it is, I believe, a minor masterpiece by the cinema’s most tender and humanistic director on a subject close to his heart.  This is how I wrote about Small Change/L’Argent de Poche in 1986, which was the film’s tenth anniversary:
“Francois Truffaut’s glowing tribute to children, who must use all their immense, amazing resources to compensate for living in a sometimes brutal, adult-made, adult-controlled world.  Leisurely plotted film is set in Thiers [a hillside town in central France] near the end of the school year, and most scenes take place at the school, where the children (ranging in age from about four to twelve) are more relaxed than the students inThe 400 Blows, and the teachers are much more enlightened that those in the 1959 film—they care about their students, find the skillful clowning and idiosyncrasies endearing, and want to teach the kids about both school subjects and life, rather than disciplining them all the time. The kids’ lives are tough enough as it is. [The young Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) certainly would have benefited from having these teachers.]
Other scenes take place around the village and in a housing development where families and teachers live—this allows us to see how the kids relate to their parents. (Unlike in The 400 Blows, the kids seem to have gotten the upper hand, and the parents are full of love.)  And significant scenes take place in the cinema, where the entire community gathers and there is no distinction between child and adult.  The two children who share center stage are those who have the most difficult home lives.  Patrick (Geory Desmouceaux) lives alone with a handicapped father—what he finds missing in his life is clear when he develops a crush on his best friend’s mother.  Julien (Philippe Goldman) is a victim of child abuse—a subject that in 1976 was not getting much attention in film or on television.
While this film is known for its humor (which the kids deliver naturally), the child-abuse theme was of extreme importance to Truffaut; he even has a teacher (Jean-Franois Stévenin)—he will remind some of Truffaut—lecture his class on the subject.  Otherwise this is a simple film about innocent themes (a boy’s first kiss, boys sneaking into movies, boys spying on a nude woman)—but don’t let that fool you! There are unforgettable scenes and faces, and so much is revealed about children’s special, often-troubled world.  Also with: Virginie Thévenéx, Sylvie Grezel, [and his daughters] Laura Truffaut [and] Eva Truffaut.”
Screening times for Small Change on Tuesday April 15 at the Film Forum are: 1:00, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, and 9:50.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Archive: Talya Lavie on Her Short, "The Substitute"

Tribeca Film Festival

Tayla Lavie on Her Short, The Substitute

From Timesquare.com November 18, 2006

Danny Peary chats with Israeli director Talya Lavie, whose short film "The Substitute" made a big splash at this year's Tribeca Film Festival
For film critics, one of the pleasures of attending film festivals is to be able to watch shorts and discover those talented directors who might be making great features in the near future. The short that really impressed me at the recent Tribeca Film Festival in New York City was the 19-minute “The Substitute,” made by young Israeli filmmaker Talya Lavie.

It was made with polish and wit and has an unusual storyline—a female soldier who does endless, mindless clerical work wants desperately to leave a remote outpost but is ordered to stick around and look after her suicidal substitute. My enthusiasm for the film was justified when it won major awards at recent festivals in Tokyo, Barcelona, Palm Springs, and Melbourne. So I interviewed her by email...

Q: Before we talk about your prize-winning “The Substitute,” I’d like to go back a little. Prior to doing graduate studies as the prestigious Sam Spiegel Film & TV School in Jerusalem, you went to the Bezalel Academy of Arts & Design in the same city to study animation. Did you want that to be your field or did you want to go on to make narrative films?

Talya Lavie: I wanted to be a “filmmaker,” and at a certain point I decided that I didn't want to restrict myself to animation--especially since my animation skills are very limited stylistically. However, it’s still one of my favorite realms, so I’d really like to work in animation or at least integrate it into my work.

Q: On your showcase CD, along with “Sliding Flora” (2003) and “The Substitute,” you include a brief but amusing and visually dazzling animated short called “The Waitress” [watch video]. Was it a school project? And did you show it locally or enter it into competition?

 It was made as part of my studies at Bezalel Academy and was never shown in a competition or other framework (but it, like “Sliding Flora” and “The Substitute,” can be viewed online at www.talyalavie.com).

Q: Talk about the animation and design. I like how you make it seem there is a cameraman filming at the restaurant, and employing various angles and altering distances; and how in your final shot there are three planes—foreground (where a car moves past), middle, and background (the café), like Disney would have in his classic cartoons.

 This animated film was created almost entirely by hand. I drew each layer of the animation separately, and then transferred the drawings to a basic computer program that merges the individual layers. The characters were drawn and colored via computer, and the backgrounds are collages composed of acrylic paintings and newspaper clippings. That's a 1932 Fiat that drives by---straight from a book I found on the history of automobiles.

Q: “Sliding Flora” was shown at about thirty festivals, won seven international prizes, and had a screening at MoMA. Where did you get the idea for a film about a klutzy waitress who must deliver her trays down a slide?

 "Sliding Flora" was filmed at a statue called “The Monster" that was created by the French artist and sculptress Niki de Saint Phalle. Ever since she fashioned it in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 1970s, it's been a very popular park for children. At one time I was living in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood of Jerusalem, and every day on my way to the bus I'd pass the statue and think how neat it would be to make a film there. I should mention that at the same time I was working as a waitress (not a particularly talented one). The two factors converged, and the idea for "Sliding Flora" was born.

While I was working as a waitress, I always thought about how waiting tables was actually a metaphor for something else, for an emotional state where you work to please people of nondescript identity. At some point you appear before them as if before an audience, in a role you've created for yourself, and you act as if you really care about them. The waitress in the film must meet daunting acrobatic challenges that are intended to be nightmare-like. But her thinking is so influenced by her desire to excel in her performance and be admired and valued by those around her that she doesn't even see the absurdity of the situation.

Jerusalemites react quite enthusiastically to the film. The "Monster" is an indelible part of their childhood memories, and they can't believe that they're seeing it as a coffee shop in a movie.

Q: I think it’s totally original and comical, and your lead actress, Shiri Ashkenazi, is a find.

 First, my thanks. Shiri Ashkenazi is indeed an outstanding actress. I met her during the auditions for an actress to play Flora, and we became very good friends. Subsequently, the role of the dejected woman soldier, Libby, in "The Substitute" was written with Shiri in mind.

Q: Again I am impressed by Shiri in “The Substitute,” and you also got a strong, “real” performance by Dana Ivgy as Zohara. Tell me about her and how you got her in your movie.

 Dana is a well-known, highly-respected actress in Israel. I had tried for the longest time to reach her, but somehow never succeeded. And then I sent the script to an acting student who I thought could play the role of the medic. He turned out to be Dana’s boyfriend! She read the script and called me to say that she really loved it and wanted to play Zohara, and that was the first connection between the two of us. Later the production was delayed because of various issues, and Dana became extremely busy. So again I found myself with no lead actress with just a short time before filming was set to start. Out of total despair, I decided to stalk Dana everywhere…until I found myself in her house. She made some phone calls and turned things upside down in her schedule in order to make herself available for the period of the filming.

Q: Were you comfortable directing a star?
TL: The fact that Dana’s such an experienced actress was perhaps a bit threatening at the beginning, but that passed very swiftly. It was wonderful to work with her and the rest of the cast. They were all extremely talented, modest, and prepared to work their hearts out.
Q: You say you connected with Shiri and she inspired you to make “The Substitute.” When we talked informally about the film, you described Libby as “a problem.” Can you explain what you meant by that?
TL: I knew that I wanted to do a film about my army service and I had a general idea about the locale of the film and the characters, but I still lacked a storyline. I knew I wanted Shiri to play one of the parts, and I kept imagining her as being “somebody’s problem.” We created her character primarily from body language and facial expressions, and chose to leave her personality unresolved, yet quite comprehensible to her own self. In essence, the role of the protagonist, Zohara, and other characters were built around her.
Q: Your film is about women in the Israeli army, far away from any fighting. Talk about how your own two years in the army relates to your film.
TL: Most of the military films I've seen placed men at the focal point. For a long time I had wanted to make my own army film. A film that would take place in an atmosphere charged with intensive combat and battle missions, but would place the most lackluster, least heroic characters at the forefront of the story. We tried, via small hints, to give the impression that important, fateful events were taking place behind these characters, but they were occupied with no less dramatic matters.
The story is fictional and scripted, but the one thing that is completely autobiographical is the life of the army clerk. Zohara’s role was identical to the one I played during my military service. Beyond that, I drew inspiration for creating the characters and the atmosphere from my own army stint. The movie was filmed at the exact base where I served, and since the story is quite extreme, we were careful to pay attention to the authenticity of small details—the set, the uniforms, the language.

Q: I laughed at the beginning when Zohara instructs Libby that she can vary what she will be doing as an army clerk—either opening all the mail at once or one at a time. A numbing routine.

TL: That segment just accentuates the appalling waste of time the work really is. And that a monkey could do it just as well, or, best case, maybe a computer. It was important to me that this text be spoken seriously, not cynically. That’s because the absurdity is even greater when we the viewers see it and the characters don’t because they’re so used to thinking that this is what they're good at. Also—this may sound strange and contradictory—I sincerely believe that you must not belittle any work that you do, even if it’s stupid.

Q: You told me that the movie depicts “humiliations” that you felt at that outpost. Talk about the line said by the young medic to Zohara when he’s trying to seduce her: “In the desert, every thorn is a flower.” Is that a compliment or a humiliating line?

 This is a line that’s usually part of a men’s joke. It’s never been casually used by a man trying to make it with a woman. The fact that he utters this sentence in a complimentary tone confuses Zohara about how to respond and what to make of it. She pegs the medic as a problematic type, yet a specific one with his own, not necessarily “bad” personality.

Q: Talk about your Israeli film title, “Lonely Soldier,” in relation to the characters, including Libby, who says she feels she doesn’t exist, and Zohara, who seems to have had no friends before Libby. The other women do nothing of consequence and seem to be living like prisoners. I think you’re saying that female soldiers in remote posts feel that way because of loneliness, isolation, and doing unnecessary tasks.

 My first night at that base felt like my first night in prison. Eventually matters improved, but even after a year-and-a-half of serving there and things looking different, I was still engulfed by that “prison” feeling etched in my brain. Through the character of Libby, the new soldier, I wanted to convey that feeling in the girls’ barracks, which even architecturally resemble most of the prisons I’ve seen in movies.

As for the title, in Hebrew it’s “Lonely Soldier,” which in army terminology refers to a soldier with no family in Israel—or at all. It’s a very common and cold term, but I’ve always felt that it’s a poignant juxtaposition of words. I adopted this for the title of the film because despite their being no information in the script about the girls’ families or backgrounds, there’s a pervading feeling that they are quite alone.

When translating the film to English (which, by the way, was quite complicated), we decided that the literal translation “Lonely Soldier” didn’t express the same sentiment as the Hebrew (where, as we said, it’s an army term). Somehow in English it had the sound of a Vietnamese war movie. So we decided to title the English-language version “The Substitute.” This name we also deliberated over a great deal. We were afraid it had the connotations of a substitute teacher, but a friend who’s a native English speaker convinced us that this definitely was not the case. If you disagree, take it up with him….

Q: At one point the women, who have little recreation, watch a political puppet show. You had puppet imagery at the end of “The Waitress,” so can I assume you have an interest in puppets?

 The truth is that I wrote a short skit for a puppet theater and I really wanted to put it in a film somehow. What the puppets give "The Substitute," beyond fulfilling my desire, is a way to reveal feelings that the characters themselves can't express. The puppets can weep aloud, shout, cry out to God. I love the segment where the officer shouts that she's lonely: In the play that’s just the beginning of a stupid joke, but from the expression on Libby's face, you can see that this is her genuine feeling.

Q: Do you think Libby has attempted suicide before arriving there? When she and Zohara bond does Zohara think she will be happy and never commit suicide again?

 While the army did not trigger Libby’s deep depression, it certainly exacerbated it. When I was writing the script, I used to monitor internet forums for soldiers suffering from depression (and it turns out that there are quite a few). I think that an acute depression leading to suicide begins at a much earlier stage, but army service frequently brings it to the fore.

From the beginning, Zohara never believes that Libby wants to commit suicide. She, personally, is so self-centered that she assumes everyone else harbors selfish priorities. She is sure that Libby is feigning suicide in order to get released from the base, which is exactly what Zohara would have done.

Q: Do you like Zohara or Libby, and do you relate to them?

 I’m very attached to both characters. I think that they’re quite similar, yet they represent two contrasting options for relating to life. Each of them lives in her own world, without much awareness of her surroundings. I identify with them both, despite their differences, and I think that I succeeded in expressing myself through them.

Q: Will Israeli women relate to your film more than anyone else? Do you think there are universal themes?

 It’s hard to answer that. While I was writing the script, I imagined an audience made up of people I know who are somehow connected to me. And they’re Israelis, of course, mostly IDF veterans (it’s important to note that the army is a very individual, different experience for each soldier). Naturally I had no intention of focusing only upon the very limited audience of Israeli women soldiers. So not everything in this movie necessarily relates to army service, and the military is in some ways an excuse to talk about other structures in life.

Also, I never considered that the film would be screened in many places outside Israel, nor could I know whether its themes would be understood internationally.

I still contend that it speaks differently to an Israeli audience who understand the army culture from up close and can catch details and codes that are transmitted to those in the know. However, of course I’m delighted that the film is being shown in places across the world I’d never imagined, with positive reviews.

Q: With your camera placement, you made some interesting choices. What were you thinking in regards to a style?

TL: The decisions about the filming style were shaped by loads of restrictions. The film was extremely low-budget, with serious time constraints. We couldn’t afford the luxury of having complex camera movements or complicated shots of any type. But I actually like these kinds of limitations---they arouse great creativity. We attempted to keep to a limited spectrum of colors in the film and dim lighting, to set the proper atmosphere. In essence I think that this is the type of film whose simple filming style doesn’t attract attention, leaving the stage to the actors’ work.
Q: Do you think your film is political?
TL: I think that it’s indirectly political. Through a story that doesn’t touch the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in any way, we get a glimpse of the place where decisions affecting human life are made by people too young, sometimes unable to comprehend the extent of the responsibility on their shoulders. This, as well as cases of different sorts, can lead to tragic consequences.
Q: Before your film played at the Tribeca Film Festival, it already had won the Audience Award in Berlin. Since Tribeca, it has won several awards including being chosen Best Short Film at Barcelona and the Melbourne International Film Festival. At Palm Springs, you were named Best Emerging Film Student. You have had amazing success at festivals, so tell me your overall impression of them.
TL: They are all great experiences. I especially enjoy the vibes and the special energy of big cities like New York. Besides that, a lot of people talked to me about the film and were interested in my work, and I usually have some interesting meetings. I never know if showing my film at an event will lead to anything in the future, but I don't think that is the main reason to go to festivals. At Tribeca, for instance, I had conversations with interesting people, getting to know different points of view, and saw films that I couldn't see anywhere else. It was very fulfilling and a lot of fun and I hope to be invited back.