If Daniel Burman weren't Argentinean, he'd be Israeli. The 33-year-old Buenos Aires-born director speaks Spanish, but otherwise he looks and sounds like a laid-back young Tel Aviv club-goer. His films, including his latest, Family Law (Derecho de Familia), which opens today throughout Israel, tend to deal with the relationships among members of Jewish families, and his heroes often have a difficult time breaking away from their parents. All of which means it's no surprise that it is Burman who will direct the first Argentinean-Israeli co-production, Immigrant Paradise, about an Argentinean family that moves to Tel Aviv, which he hopes to begin filming in January 2008.
"It's crazy that this is the first co-production," he says. "These cultures [Israeli and Argentinean] are close for many reasons ... I am very relaxed about being a Jew in Argentina."
He says he's wanted to film in Israel since he visited the country two years ago to promote his last film, Lost Embrace, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival.
"Before 2004, I just knew Israel from CNN and the newspapers," he says. Today, "I worry when I read the newspaper and see stories about Israel, but when I'm here I feel absolutely safe."
He plans to bring his family along with him when he makes the film, saying, "I can imagine my children playing on the beach in Tel Aviv."
One cultural difference between Israelis and Argentineans becomes clear, however, when Burman is asked whether the family in Immigrant Paradise will be religious or not. Shrugging, he says, "I can't tell the difference between regular and religious. In Argentina, lighting one candle at Hanukka means you are religious."
Religious or not, Israeli audiences will have no trouble identifying with the characters in Family Law. The story of Ariel and Bernardo Perelman, a Jewish father and son, both lawyers, who want to be close but don't quite know how, Family Law explores the stress of being a father. Burman cites director Francois Truffaut as a major influence on his work, noting, "Truffaut said the most important point in a man's life is when he realizes he cares more about children than his father."
Burman, the father of two children aged 2 and 4, admits that there are "many autobiographical elements in my films, but not everything." (Burman's older son, Eloy, plays the role of Ariel's child in the film.)
Like Ariel, the retiring hero of Family Law, he says he had trouble getting used to being a father. "When a woman has a child, it's as if she has been a mother for 10 years. The child has grown in her body ... But for a man, nothing happens in your body."
When he first picked up his son, he says, "it was like holding a big hamburger."
Also like his fictional alter-ego, he comes from "a family of lawyers." But, he says, "they always supported" him in his choice to become a filmmaker.
"No one ever dreamed that all this would happen, though," he says, speaking of his rapid rise to the top of the filmmaking world. He has written and directed five features and has produced 10 films, including the acclaimed Motorcycle Diaries. Both Lost Embrace and Family Law became Argentina's official submission for a best foreign language film Oscar nomination.
The upcoming Israeli-Argentinean co-production will mark the first time he has chosen to film a script that he didn't write."I thought it was a wonderful script and I knew right away I wanted to make it," he says about the decision, which came after he was approached by representatives of Metro Communications and United King Films.
In the meanwhile, he is working on another project, a script about a couple coping with empty-nest syndrome that he is writing with actor Daniel Hendler, who stars in Family Law. Hendler appeared in Lost Embrace - for which he won a Silver Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival - and Waiting for the Messiah.
Burman, who says he is proud of being known as "the Woody Allen of Argentina," has no plans to go Hollywood right now, but says, "I've had some strange propositions. It's not a dream for me, but it's not something I won't think about."