Just like a cat

kadr z filmu "150 twarzy Izraela"
Kadr z filmu "150 twarzy Izraela"

Marek S. Bochniarz interviews Noit Geva, director of 'Cut to the Chase'


Your film consists of quotes from Israeli cinema. Why did you decide to make such a challenging piece? Was it  partially an expression of your in-depth knowledge of Israeli cinema, emotions you have for those films?

It all started by accident. I was directing a 10 part series about the Israeli fiction cinema. I had to watch over 400 feature films that were made in Israel from the late '50s. As an editor, I had the privilege to watch the movies on my Avid, a simple technical fact that allowed me to cut all the relevant extracts to assist the writing of the script. While doing so, I soon noticed there were many patterns. I realized, for instance, there was no Israeli film that did not somehow relate to the news on the radio, in newspapers or on TV. I was shocked. Could it be that in our fiction cinema we cannot tell a story that does not relate to actuality? I had to dig more and look for any motive from the insignificant – as the fact that the Israelis in the films keep shushing one another – to the fact that the Mother is always the one that receives the awful news about the son being killed in the war and so on. I called these patterns our obsessions. I then composed all the patterns that kept repeating themselves in the films and edited them in the form of a romantic comedy. For that reason only, The Man became the hero of my movie rather than the Woman, as almost all of the Israeli films had the man as a protagonist. The Israeli man is our primary obsession.

So I guess you had access to many films which are not available to Israeli audience nowadays and were never released on DVDs. Could you give examples of those rare movies which you enjoyed the most and think they should be restored and distributed?

I was fascinated by the films that were made in the sixties. Especially the ones that followed the 1967 war and that were totally hybrid films like: ‘The War After the War’, ‘Is Tel Aviv Burning’ or ‘Sinai Commandos’. They were films that used fiction and documentary combined together as if there were no borders. I am sure these blurred boundaries can be researched. After all, it was Israel after the Six Day War. The film of Alida Gera ‘Before Tomorrow’ (1969) – the first Israeli film made by a female director – really moved me. It was the aesthetic freedom she took for herself to express her take on love.

How much time did it take to choose scenes you want to use, and edit them?

It took me three years. But I must admit that once I built my own stock of repeating elements, I chose only the ones that appeared 30-50 times. Every beat/scene in the final film that is composed of many movies is only a representation of many others that were left out. If the hero walks on the Tel Aviv beach for 5 seconds in the final film, there are at least 15 minutes of 30 other protagonists that do the same. So in that sense, the scenes chose me and not vice versa.

Why did you make ‘Shooting the Israeli Man’ – I mean, a film about a collective Israeli man, and not an Israeli woman? Would it be even possible? Or was Israeli cinema more focused on men than women in the past?

Yes, Israeli cinema surely focuses on a man. We are totally obsessed with him. He is the father that does not approve the marriage of his daughter, and he then who goes to war. I wanted to make a film about an Israeli woman, but I found her as a supporting actress. It is only in the past years that women directors and women protagonists are stepping forward. I believe that in 15 years, I will have enough features to complete the second part. That is why the last title card of the film is “To be continued…”.

On what subjects do female directors tend to focus? What are their obsessions? Or is it too early to point out those characteristics?

I think it is too early to point them out. I think it could be done through short films made by students, but I know very little about them.

I sensed that some scenes given the way you deconstruct artificiality in the depiction of male/female relationships produce a sense of irony. Did you want to show how cinema is limited in showing the world? And how screenwriters and directors tend not to describe something frankly, but rather to repeat scenes already made, strengthening stereotypic depiction of male/female relationships?

I love the Israeli cinema, but at the same time I find it taking itself too seriously. The fact that scenes repeat themselves in different films points out the way we look at ourselves. Yes, stereotypical depictions are one way we look at ourselves. The other would be scenes like when the man comes home after he cheated, and the woman is always in the kitchen waiting to confront him.

Your film has two versions - ‘Cut to the chase’ and ‘Shooting the Israeli Man’. What are the differences between them? Why did you want to change the previous version?

I had to. It took the producer of the film, Arik Bernstein, a long year to get releases for the excerpts. The first version consisted of over 300 films. I had to edit before getting permission from the director/producer because only after I finished the film, I knew what movies were included in the final cut. In the editing process, I could make a small change and cut out 2 minutes that included more than ten films. After the first version, I had to exclude some of the features. It did not harm or change the narrative of the movie as every shot was interchangeable with a similar take from another film.

I have a question that has been on my mind for some time that refers to a similar problem of getting a release. How did you manage to make 'Description of a Memory' with your husband Dan, the movie exploring 'Description of a Combat'? The director Chris Marker was trying to block any public screenings until his death. Was shooting the projection of this old film a way to deal with legal issues? Did Marker see your movie before he passed away?

In a nutshell, the contact with Chris was made possible thanks to the generous support of Mrs Lia Van Leer, the producer of ‘Description of a Combat.’

Chris responded to her request to meet Dan Geva (director and co-creator) in person, in his Parisian studio, under the condition he would watch a previous work of his. After watching his debut film ‘Urishalayim’ (1993) he invited him to his residency. Chris then said: “Do whatever you wish with my images, they are no longer mine”. He met him several times during the production of the film during which he insisted not to intervene in the creative process. His only request was to be the first to watch the final product. And he was. He wrote a very touching response to it. After that, they met a few more times. After spending a few good hours with the man, Dan has one thing to say: “not only is he a genius, but more importantly he is the most generous and most kind and gentle individual I ever met. Just like a cat.”

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