Interview with Lorraine Levy

October 30, 2012 | By Cohen Media Group
Dir. Lorraine Levy on set in 'The Other Son', credit: Amit Berlowitz

What is it like when a French crew comes to film in Israel, in this particular context. Was this a concern for you?

L.L. – Neither my producers nor I had any intention of showing up like conquering heroes. We arrived with genuine humility, with the aim of making this film and telling this story as a collective exercise. We wanted it to be a project that brought people together. I asked our Israeli executive producer to give a copy of the screenplay (translated into English) to each of the crew members. It was very important to me that the electrician or grip working on this film knew exactly what he or she was involved in, so they could be on board with the project, in full knowledge. Beyond that, it was difficult in so far as Israel is simultaneously an open and closed country. People are circumspect regarding outsiders. And that’s legitimate, because that level of distrust is one of the conditions for the country’s survival. So we had to show proof of our good intentions, and on more than one occasion. It was a long process to become mutually accepted, but we arrived with such naivety that it generated a lot of positive energy. Loads, in fact.

What recollections do you have of the first day of the shoot?

L.L. – Strangely, it wasn’t the first day that left the strongest impression. I have a memory of the first day of shooting that was a mixture of excitement, of urgency to get started at last, but also of fear and misapprehension. It’s the first time I’ve made a film in four languages (French, Hebrew, Arabic and English), and I only speak one- and-a-half! I wondered how I was going to get through it, how I was going to marshal my crew and communicate what I wanted, how I was going to work with the actors, how to suggest to them certain nuances. Then in the end, you just throw yourself into it and everything goes just fine.

Which day left the strongest memory for you?

L.L. – The one when we filmed in front of the wall. I’d been to Israel several times but I’d never seen a wall like that. Never. I found the spot where we built the checkpoint by chance. We were out scouting and suddenly, we found ourselves on this odd road in the shape of an “L” running the other way to the wall which stretched before us to the horizon like an immense scar. And next to it was this nomad camp, which is a real nomad camp, and behind the wall is the Palestinian village. It was an incredible place, which said an awful lot in a single image. I knew right away we had to build and shoot here. At the foot of this wall there were some very intense moments, such as when we filmed the night scene in which Pascal Elbé heads off on foot in search of Joseph. It was one or two o’clock in the morning. The noise of the equipment and the power of the lighting meant people on the other side of the wall were starting to wonder what was going on. And while we were rehearsing, we heard some shouts and saw some things falling, so we looked up and saw some boys who had scaled the wall – I’ve no idea how, since at that point it’s six or seven meters high and covered in barbed wire! They were balancing up there to see what was going on. The Palestinians in the crew told them we were a film crew. I was aghast, because one wall evokes another, and certain images inevitably surfaced. Those of the Berlin wall, or even more disturbingly, those of the Warsaw ghetto.

Things calmed down, the boys stayed up there but kept quiet. We’d scarcely started filming before we were interrupted by the sirens of the Israeli police in Hummers. I

was starting to wonder if we’d ever be able to film. And this time it was the Israeli members of the crew who went to talk to the police to smooth things over. And then finally, we got to film. At that point, I was asking myself, where is the movie: in what I’m experiencing here or in what I’m trying to tell? The answer is, no doubt, in both.

When you’re in a country where you’re confronted with such incidents, is there a tendency to be overtaken by events?

L.L. – In a story like the one I just described, in which real life is more compelling than the imaginary events, you can effectively lose your way. I think I was saved from that through discussions with my crew and my actors who were continually filling me in on what I was seeing without always comprehending, or at least not always very clearly. I felt that in the space of less than four months I’d experienced a sort of crash course and I was more than ever a relay for events. In other words, I experienced emotions and shocks, and they immediately fed into my narrative. That’s also why we had to be re-writing all the time because more than ever the film was a shifting material. Leaving it static would have been dangerous.

Watching THE OTHER SON, one really has the feeling that your directing has evolved, that you’ve matured as a director. Is that something you felt yourself?

L.L. – Two things: first off, this is my third theatrical feature-film, and my fourth film all told. Directing is something you learn on the job, feeding off your previous experiences. The more shoots you do, the more you feel free in what you do. At the start, for me – as someone who started out as a screenwriter – the strength was in the writing. But when you go behind the camera, you discover that the power is in the image. The temptation was great in the beginning to use the screenplay not as the base material and a backbone, but as a whole piece to be filmed as it is. But the more you develop, the more you realize that you have to move away from it and that the power of the image mustn’t be rendered redundant by the power of the word. Secondly, I’d say, it’s the first time I’ve felt so free. My producers had faith in me and backed me all the way, and that trust galvanized me. That said, we had a very small budget. We shot the film in 33 days, and we had so many budget problems that I had to renounce one day’s shooting on set. Despite that, we didn’t deprive ourselves of anything, and we got all the shots we needed. This confidence, this liberty gave me wings. I soon forgot all about constraints, and that inspired me to go to another level.

You may have filmed all the shots you wanted, but a film still has to be put together in editing. How did that go?

L.L. – People often talk about editing as the first stage of post-production. To me, it’s more part of the shoot. Sylvie Gadmer set to work while I was still filming, which was helpful because she gave me her impressions of what she was seeing. I had the informed opinion of the first viewer. A few days after the shoot was over, Sylvie showed me the first rough cut of the film. Then we started to work together with the aim of telling the story in the most fluid way possible, so that all the crossing paths were fed by the characters’ emotions and not by editing tricks.

The music plays an important role in the film. How did you pick the composer?

L.L. – I’ve always put music to the fore. In THE FIRST TIME I TURNED 20, we worked with the composer weeks in advance so we could hear a version on set. During preparation for THE OTHER SON, I came across the music of Dhafer Youssef and it really struck me. He’s a very unusual musician, who studied at a Koranic school, was a muezzin, and who quit all that aged 19 to travel, spending time in Vienna, Paris and New York. He discovered Scandinavian jazz, plays the oud and has an incredible voice. For me, his music is a sort of primal scream. It fit perfectly with the film. So I gave his CDs to Sylvie with very precise instructions on the pieces I wanted to use. As I was filming, Sylvie put the music over the images and straight away sent me an email saying: “It works!” Once the first edit of the film was done, then we had to worry about whether Dhafer Youssef would agree to provide the music for THE OTHER SON. To my mind, if he’d said no it would have been a major blow. Fortunately, he said yes.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems endless. When you make a film that deals with this subject, is it hard to find an ending?

L.L. – It was extremely difficult! In the original screenplay, Noam had written it ending with a bombing. I didn’t want that because I thought it was a predictable ending and I was struggling to make a film that eschewed commonplace violence, if I can put it like that. Nathalie and I thought about a better ending, but couldn’t come up with anything. I didn’t stop thinking about it during the shoot. I soon realized that we had to leave the adult characters to one side; that it had to happen between the boys, because the film is first and foremost telling the story of that generation. So I wrote an ending, and my first assistant, Sophie Davin said: “I’m sure you can find something better!”

The right idea came at the last minute. I’d planned to do a wide 360° shot in the ruins of a building overlooking a valley where Yacine comes to seek refuge. In the end, I did the same thing but through 180°. For the end of the film, the remaining 180° are seen by Joseph, who replaces Yacine in the same wide shot but only reversed. Each one is half of the other.

Have you shown the film to the crew, and if so, what was their reaction?

L.L. – Yes, and it was a very moving moment. Unfortunately, not everyone was there because we did the screening at the Cinémathèque in Tel Aviv during the day, so some people were working. Those who could make it were pleased and moved; Khalifa Natour was overwhelmed.

Do you believe in the power of cinema?

L.L. – To do what? To change the world? No. To share, to exchange; yes. A book, or a film, is a dialogue with whoever makes the effort to seek it out. It’s a way of experiencing and understanding the humanity of the Other.

Interview by PATRICK FABRE

Source: Press Kit/An Other Son by Lorraine Lévy, A Cohen Media Group release

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