Natalie Portman Cannes Film Festival.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – Actress Natalie Portman had been thinking about making a film based on the writings of Israeli author Amos Oz ever since she first read his book A Tale of Love and Darkness.
Some seven years later, she finally did. The movie, by the same name, had its US premier on Friday, in an event sponsored by the Israeli Consulate in New York.
“The book is really moving and beautifully written and so many of the stories sounded familiar,” Portman said in a statement. “I had heard many stories about my grandparents and their relationship to books and learning and to language and to Europe and Israel – it felt familiar and something I was interested in exploring.”
A Tale of Love and Darkness, a staple of Israeli literature, tells the story of Amos Oz’s childhood in Jerusalem during the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel.
The film starts in 1945, before the War of Independence in Israel. The timeline then shifts to 1953, several years after the state was recognized and when Amos moves to the kibbutz. In her directorial debut, Portman chose to focus on young Oz’s relationship with his mother, Fania, whom she also plays in the film.
Portman said that for her, the story is about “the birth of a writer that happens because of a void his mother leaves and that he has to fill with words and stories.”
“There’s tension between them – she’s pushing him to create but she’s giving him the space he needs to fill,” Portman added. “It’s devastating, this incredible abandonment, but it is also this opportunity and she gives him the tools along the way.”
The two have a close relationship, filled with storytelling. When Fania, who is a dreamer and struggles to reconcile her life with her dreams, becomes depressed, it is her son who turns into her main caregiver, whom she relies on. Fania committed suicide when Amos was only 12 years old.
“Being a mom helped me understand Fania and not understand her at the same time,” Portman explained. “You can’t imagine leaving your child. But at the same time, you understand how complicated it is being a mom.”
Portman said writing the movie was a rewarding experience for her.
“I liked being in a room by myself with the words and changing things and coming up with ideas,” she said.
“Later, I realized that when you have to make things come true, it is more challenging.”
The actress and director also explained that acting in her own film was never the original plan. At the time she started thinking of taking the project forward, Portman was only 26 years old and thought Fania should be played by a more mature woman. However, when she started trying to raise funds for the production, she realized that donors would only give her money if she acted in it.
Portman admitted she was also nervous about directing her first film.
“I was very worried about how it would go. I’ve made 35, 40 movies in my life and I have seen great things happen and I’ve seen terrible things happen,” she said. “Everyone is here because of me and I want to ensure that everyone has a positive and a safe experience.”
“That’s really important and you have to balance that with getting what you want – am I going to make this person uncomfortable by making them do something that I want for my piece of art? You always have to balance that,” she continued.
During a Q and A session following Friday’s screening, Portman also added that Amos Oz himself was very involved in making the movie. She explained that the author even toured locations with her and her team and showed her around important places from his childhood.
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