Triple Dutch

A trilogy of feature films by Dutch director Frans Weisz, a Holocaust survivor and recipient of this year’s Life Achievement Award, will be shown at J'lem festival.

December 7, 2010 22:03
3 minute read.

FRANS WEISZ 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Director Frans Weisz gazes out over the sunny Ben-Hinom Valley outside the Misheknot Sha’ananim Guest House, where he is staying while he attends the 12th Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival – he received a Life Achievement Award on opening night – and says, “This looks like paradise. I have a vision, stretching to eternity, of little tables of jews playing bridge, all the arguments going on forever.”

This image won’t surprise anyone who has seen the Dutch director’s films. Three of these – Polonaise (1989), Qui Vive (2001) and Happy End (2007) – a trilogy, about two Dutch Jewish families he co-wrote with playwright Judith Herzberg, are being screened at the festival, which runs until December 10.

The films focus on the dislocations of the Holocaust and how they still reverberate among both the Jewish characters and the non-Jews. Two of the principal characters, Lea and Nico, the couple whose marriage opens the first film, were both raised partly by non-Jewish mother substitutes while their Jewish mothers were hiding from the Nazis and then were taken to concentration camps.

Weisz had a similar story. His parents sent him to live with farmers before they were captured by the Germans. From age four to eight, he lived the life of a Catholic farmer’s son – and loved it.

“I was examined by a famous psychoanalyst after the war, and he said, ‘You’ve had such a difficult time.’ But I hadn’t. I loved living with the farmer’s family,” he says. In fact, he stays in touch with one of his Catholic “sisters” to this day.

When his mother returned from Auschwitz (his father, German actor Geza Weiss, was killed), she suffered from mental problems and was unable to care for him, which he remembers as far more difficult than his time on the farm.

HE ATTRIBUTES his vision of a heaven filled with bridge-playing Jews to a “combination of my Catholic and Jewish upbringing. It’s like a vitamin supplement. With the Catholicism, it’s more than just vitamin A and B. You get other things from it.”

Weisz’s father was a stage, cabaret and film actor, and Weisz himself had his heart set on a career on the stage. “At first I wanted to be an actor, but they told me, ‘What you lack in height, you don’t make up for in talent,’” he explains.

Then he was rejected from a program to become a director at a theater academy and felt “I will marry the ugly sister of the beautiful one” and went to study film in Rome.

He mastered the art of filmmaking but loves to direct the occasional play. In the early 1970s, he met and began collaborating with playwright Judith (Yehudit) Herzberg, who divides her time between The Netherlands and Israel. They have worked together on many projects, including the trilogy being shown at the festival. “[The character] Lea’s story is Yehudit’s story. It’s her childhood,” he says.

“I could never have done the trilogy without her.”

What does he get out of this collaboration? “I can only see the world. She can only listen in her head to the world. She writes a lot of the dialogue. She writes like a poet; she writes moments.”

Weisz has some pointers for maintaining a 35-plusyear creative partnership: “Put away all your expectations and just enjoy. Put your ego away in a suitcase somewhere. And really listen to each other.”

He acknowledges that this sounds like marital advice, although he has worked with Herzberg even longer than he has known his wife, a psychoanalyst.

His son, Geza, is an actor who has a role in Happy End. A proud father, he shows pictures of his handsome 23-year-old working as a DJ. “He makes more money than I do,” says the director.

Weisz was flattered but surprised to have won the festival’s Life Achievement Award. He is now at work on a documentary on gouache artist Charlotte Salomon who was killed in Auschwitz, about whom he made the feature film Charlotte (1981). The documentary, entitled Life? Or Theater? after her most famous series of paintings, will incorporate her art, elements of his fiction film about her life, and film biography. He is so enthusiastic about it, he takes out his BlackBerry and displays images from the work in progress.

“I know I won my achievement award already, but I feel like I’m just getting started,” he says.

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