It took two childhood friends – Amikam Kovner and Assaf Snir – who know each other so well they finish each other’s sentences, to make a movie, Echo – which has just opened throughout Israel – that explores the impossibility of ever truly knowing another human being.
Echo, a suspenseful drama about Avner (Yoram Toledano), a man who seems to have it all – a career as an engineer; marriage to Ella (Yael Abecassis), a beautiful psychologist; and two kids. But he begins to suspect Ella is having an affair and listens in to her phone calls, learning secrets that he doesn’t know how to handle. Although the film is set mostly in upper-class neighborhoods of Haifa, it has a noir-ish tone, with shadows everywhere. Even Avner’s work, which involves blowing up disused tunnels, reflects a mood of darkness and hidden desires.
Kovner and Snir, who grew up near each other in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem, agree that the relationship between the couple is the true subject of the movie. “The drama in the relationship, that’s what interests us. We use the suspense genre as a way of exploring how you can never really know anyone,” said Kovner.
“They seem like the perfect Israeli couple,” said Snir. “But he doesn’t know her 100%. He can’t know her.”
“He’s not a bad guy, but he takes her for granted,” added Kovner. “He has so many questions, and when he gets the answers, he doesn’t know what to do with them” because of a plot turn that changes the course of the story. The movie, which co-stars Guri Alfi, best known for appearing on talk shows such as Gav Ha’Uma, and Tsahi Halevi, the actor who starred in Yuval Adler’s Bethlehem, has a few twists and turns, and no one ends up quite how you thought they’d act at the beginning.
When the identity of Ella’s lover is revealed, he turns out to be very different from who Avner, and the audience, thought he would be. “It’s very hard for Avner to understand, it’s someone whose appeal is very different from Avner’s masculinity,” said Snir. “Her choice opens up more questions than it answers.”
The idea came to Kovner after a friend, who was having an affair, got a ticket in Eilat for a traffic violation and was terrified that his wife would find out if a photo was sent to his house. “He was so scared that there was a photo out there he didn’t know about,” said Kovner. “It’s a new era now. It’s possible to watch someone, to listen to them, more easily than ever before.”
Snir acknowledged that Alfred Hitchcock was an influence on them, saying. “There is something of Vertigo there, the idea of following someone, spying on them.”
But although hints of Hitchcock are obvious, the directors said there were others who influenced them more deeply during their work on the film. Snir cited Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, an unsettling story of a paranoid surveillance expert, as one of the movies that was on their minds during their writing. Another was Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Red, a film about a model who realizes that her neighbor is spying on her.
But they didn’t start out as such serious film buffs. “As a kid, I was into Indiana Jones movies,” said Snir. Kovner, who is the son of an artist and a grandson of the acclaimed Yiddish and Hebrew poet, Abba Kovner, said he was hooked on adventure movies. But both learned film history when they studied filmmaking, Kovner at Tel Aviv University and Snir at the Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film School. They began working on this screenplay together and continued to develop it at Sam Spiegel’s Jerusalem Film Lab, where they were awarded the Lab’s prize in 2014.
Although the two have made films before, they acknowledge how lucky they were to get such a stellar cast. Toledano, best known for his role in the television series, Prisoners of War, “was someone we thought of very early on for the role of Avner,” said Snir. “In real life, he is very funny and sensitive. Playing the macho side of the character was more difficult than playing the vulnerable side for him.”
Yael Abecassis, one of Israel’s most popular actresses, who starred also starred in Prisoners of War and in such films as Tel Aviv Stories and Live and Become, came on board a bit later. “She really got into the character, into her heart.” On her first day of shooting, they filmed a scene where she had to jump into the sea on a very chilly night. “We brought a double, but she said, ‘I’m going in,’ and she did, over and over,” said Snir.
The two friends, who seem like the calmest and most thoughtful of people, acknowledged the irony of their making a film filed with so much dark drama. They are currently developing a television series together and two films separately, and note that they took a risk working together. Kovner said, “It’s impossible to know if a partnership like this will work until you try it, like a marriage.”
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