Jamie Elman is not afraid of typecasting. When the actor heard that Israeli filmmaker Pinchas Perry was directing the Hollywood production When Nietzsche Wept and would be seeking someone to portray a young Sigmund Freud, Elman grabbed at the opportunity.
"I personally felt it had to go to a Jewish [actor], and that it had to be me," says Elman, who burst into his audition spouting fluent Hebrew.
Elman stars in two films at this week's Jerusalem Film Festival - as Freud in When Nietzsche Wept, and as a young American Marine on a delayed peacekeeping mission to Kosovo in Cristian Nemescu's California Dreamin', an award winner at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Elman says he can't help but bring his Jewish background to his roles, which have included small parts on TV series like Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Closer. While there is no real reference to Freud's heritage in Nietzsche, Elman insists the Austrian psychoanalyst's background shaped the character he would have been.
Even when discussing his decidedly American role in California Dreamin', Elman cannot resist tying the part thematically to both Israel and his upbringing, which included years of Jewish day school in his hometown of Montreal, a bar mitzva at the Western Wall and several trips to Israel, including one with March of the Living.
But while he's pleased to be in Israel with the film, appearing on television earlier this week to discuss the performance of Michal Yanai, an Israeli co-star, he's not sure how audiences here will receive it.
"The perception of America and of the American Dream is not the same in Romania as it is in Israel," he says. "There is less idealism about America [in] Israel. I'm curious to see how Israel will perceive it."
Based on the film's reception at Cannes, he shouldn't have much to worry about. California Dreamin' took the festival's Un Certain Regard prize and received a 10-minute standing ovation at its final screening.
And yet the joy surrounding the success of California Dreamin' is tempered for Elman: Nemescu, the film's director and writer, was killed in a car accident at age 27 last year, barely having begun the editing process on the film. Nemescu, as Elman describes him, was seen by the international film community as "one of the great white hopes for the new Romanian cinema," and the Jerusalem Film Festival will pay him tribute by screening several of the director's short films as a part of a retrospective of his work.
"I thought I'd never see the film," Elman says of California Dreamin'. Until the screening at Cannes, "I hadn't seen a single frame."
Despite the film's tragic subject matter and behind-the-scenes story, Elman says it's an optimistic work. By the end, he says, "There's still that residue of the trauma, but it's the shared experience from trauma, from the history from which the [characters] are emerging. It's the end of an old generation and the beginning of the new."
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