The Is­raeli diva who got ugly

Ronit Elk­a­betz is Is­rael’s top ac­tress. She tells Nick John­stone about boy­cotts, ne­glect­ing her­self for a role and that sex scene

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page -

RONIT ELK­A­BETZ is the face of Is­raeli cin­ema. The 43-year-old ac­tress/di­rec­tor has starred in some of the coun­try’s most ac­claimed films over the past 10 years — in­clud­ing Late Mar­riage in 2001 and 2007’s The Band’s Visit. She has also co-writ­ten and di­rected two films with her brother, Shlomi. Born in a sub­urb of Haifa to par­ents of Moroc­can de­scent, she now lives in Paris and Tel Aviv. Her lat­est per­for­mances, in Jaffa and The Girl On The Train, can be seen at the UK Jewish Film Fes­ti­val, along with a screen­ing of Late Mar­riage.

JEWISH CHRON­I­CLE: With Jaffa, you again worked with di­rec­tor, Keren Ye­daya. What is the se­cret of this re­la­tion­ship?

RONIT ELK­A­BETZ: The first minute I met Keren, I agreed to par­tic­i­pate in her first fea­ture film, Or, without even read­ing the script. The same hap­pened with Jaffa. I felt that our tastes and sen­si­tiv­i­ties meet ex­actly. The cin­ema that I’m drawn to, that Keren’s drawn to, speaks for those who have to fight for their ba­sic hu­man rights — what is of­ten called so­cial cin­ema.

JC: In Ye­daya’s de­but, Or, you took on the har­row­ing part of Ru­tie, a de­spair­ing mother trapped in a cy­cle of pros­ti­tu­tion. How dif­fi­cult was it to play the char­ac­ter?

RE: At the beginning I had to meet Ru­tie through the body be­cause the body never lies. I wanted to bring my­self to a sit­u­a­tion of hav­ing a grace­less, worn, tired body. I started a process of self-ne­glect which lasted about a year. It’s mainly a men­tal process, but it had a strong phys­i­cal ex­pres­sion. I gained 9kg, stopped all beauty care and avoided sports or any kind of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. I got con­nected to this bar­ren soul. It was hard and dif­fi­cult.

JC: Peo­ple talk of the sex scene in Late Mar­riage as be­ing one of the most truth­ful ever filmed. What was it like shoot­ing that scene?

RE: When I was read­ing the script, the first thing came to my mind was to talk to the di­rec­tor, Dover Koshashvili, about that scene. The con­di­tion for me to agree to do a 15-minute sex scene, with its full nu­dity, was if we could ex­pe­ri­ence it in the most re­al­is­tic way. I re­mem­ber telling him that it couldn’t be a “ro­man­tic” scene with soft lighting, the ac­cepted aes­thetic. He promptly said that he agreed and that his in­ten­tion was to shoot it as re­al­is­tic as it can be. The scene was filmed over 14 hours and it was not easy, but we were very fo­cused and pre­cise in our in­ten­tions, which helped iso­late us from the em­bar­rass­ment.

JC: How do you feel about the move to boy­cott Is­raeli film in­ter­ests at the Ed­in­burgh Film Fes­ti­val by Ken Loach, and the fur­ther at­tempted boy­cott at the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val?

RE: A cul­tural boy­cott is a bad thing in any re­spect. I ask my­self: Is it re­ally the stand­point of the honor­able di­rec­tor Ken Loach? When you con­sider the fact that he agrees to par­tic­i­pate in the Cannes Fes­ti­val, be­side Is­raeli films, and to dis­trib­ute his films in Is­rael through the years and earn his liv­ing from the Is­raeli cin­ema-go­ers, who ac­cept him, then it’s hard to fol­low his po­si­tion. How­ever you look at it, there’s some­thing hyp­o­crit­i­cal and sad about it. I can­not see the point of this ex­treme, tact­less move.

I re­ally do think that this is a very com­pli­cated and del­i­cate is­sue. It doesn’t mat­ter how much I be­lieve that Is­raeli pol­icy has dark­ened our soul and ex­tracted our seren­ity, and that it must change im­me­di­ately. I be­lieve that no one whose liv­ing space is not be­tween Is­rael and Pales­tine can re­ally un­der­stand the in­ten­sity of ex­is­tence in this area. I ad­mit that, per­son­ally, “for­eign” opin­ions, whether they serve my in­ter­est or not, al­ways make me un­com­fort­able. We all have opin­ions and it’s a good thing, but if we find our­selves shut­ting other peo­ples’ mouths for their be­liefs, it will be the end of the en­light­ened era.

A cul­tural boy­cott means death. It’s iden­ti­cal in any form, to any dic­ta­tor­ship regime. I hope that this ten­dency does not be­come rad­i­calised and that we can do what re­ally needs to be done, which is to talk to each other like hu­mans, to lis­ten out of mu­tual re­spect. To talk, be­cause that’s the only way to make progress. We don’t have to agree, we don’t have to love, but it’s pos­si­ble to have a civilised dis­cus­sion be­tween peo­ple, be­tween film­mak­ers, be­tween coun­tries. We have to.

Ronit Elk­a­betz says she is drawn to films that fea­ture peo­ple fight­ing for ba­sic rights

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