A Holy Land love story

Director Jorge Gurvich’s ‘Mrs. Moskowitz and the Cats’ is a film about finding love at the most unexpected time and place.

Rita Zohar and Moni Moshonov (photo credit: Tova Rogel)
Rita Zohar and Moni Moshonov
(photo credit: Tova Rogel)
Jorge Gurvich, the director of Mrs. Moskowitz and the Cats, which just opened throughout the country, has an unusual and strangely appropriate backstory connected to his movie.
During a meeting for coffee on Emek Refaim, the Argentina-born Gurvich, who moved to Israel in the 1970s, explains that he is new to Jerusalem. He moved here after the film had its premiere at the Jerusalem Film Festival two years ago. The movie, a lyrical romance (based on a novel by Yehoshua Kenaz), tells the story of a love affair between an elderly retired French teacher (Rita Zohar) and a washedup, alcoholic soccer player (Moni Moshonov), who meet in a Tel Aviv convalescent hospital.
A woman saw the movie at this premiere screening, and “she came up to me afterward and told me she had to meet the man who made this movie.”
Ironically, friends had thought of fixing up this pair, but they hadn’t actually met yet. Gurvich fell hard, and left Herzliya to be with the “love of my life” in Jerusalem.
It’s not surprising that the movie brought them together, since it’s clearly a labor of love. Gurvich, one of Israel’s most distinguished cinematographers, read the Kenaz novel and approached the author to get permission to film it.
“He said, ‘I’ll sell it to you. It’s like a plot of land. You take it and build on it what you want.'"
“The book was fantastic but very sad. There wasn’t much grace. I added a little more joy, a little more love of life,” the director said.
Gurvich made the tone a bit lighter. He still knew that a film about an older woman might be a tough sell, but he didn’t care.
“It’s not a movie about the elderly, it’s a movie about life,” he says.
“It’s a movie about a woman who lives and is fine at the beginning, but in a way she is dead. And then through this love she awakens to her life and learns to enjoy it, even though it happens late.”
In a character-driven movie like this one, casting is key, and Gurvich felt lucky to persuade Rita Zohar to play his leading lady. Zohar lives in California and has taken roles in American television series and movies, including CSI: New York and Waterworld.

“She is in every frame,” says Gurvich.
“And she was utterly cooperative with everything I asked. She gave herself completely to the movie. She was like a young girl falling in love for the first time. Her soul was naked on the screen. Any actress would want to do this movie. But I wanted her because of who she is. In a movie like this, you choose the person, not just the actor. You need to create life together.”
Zohar was awarded the Wolgin Prize for Best Actress at the Jerusalem Film Festival for the role.
GURVICH HAS also has a close and longstanding working relationship with Moshonov, whom he knew he wanted for the male role in the film. The actor was known for television comedy.
“Moni hadn’t made a movie for 10 years before I got him to act in my [short] film, The Shower. I really wanted him for that part,” which is about an elderly man who wants his son to let him leave an old-age home to take a shower.
“He’s the best actor I’ve ever seen. I call him, ‘the School of Life.’ I’ve learned so much from him. But he didn’t want to play an old man.”
But Gurvich persisted and eventually persuaded Moshonov, who was in his late 40s at the time, to star in The Shower. Moshonov was moved by the film, which changed his outlook on movies. Since making it, he has become one of the hardest-working leading men in Israeli cinema, starring in the acclaimed films A Late Marriage, Year Zero and Kedma, as well as in the American films Two Lovers (with Gwyneth Paltrow) and We Own the Night.

“I’ve never known anyone who enjoys life so much,” says Gurvich. “He’s like an explosion of positive energy, and that was just what the character needed.” Gurvich has switched gears for his next film, which will be called Jerusalem Cabaret.

“It’s about high-school students at an art school who fall in love while creating a musical that dramatizes Bible stories. There are seven young actors in it,” says Gurvich. “It’s fun.”
This will be Gurvich’s first film as director that is set in Jerusalem.
“This is where I fell in love, it’s good for me here.”