No wonderland for this ‘Alice’

Aspiring Israeli filmmaker Dana Goldberg speaks to the ‘Post’ about bringing the complex character of Alice to life.

ILANIT BEN-YA’AKOV 370 (photo credit: Amit Berlovich)
(photo credit: Amit Berlovich)
Dana Goldberg, sitting in the lobby of the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, checking her email and chatting with friends, looks like any young aspiring filmmaker in Israel.
But she’s actually one of Israel’s most acclaimed new directors. Her dramatic film, Alice, which premiered at last year’s Jerusalem Film Festival, where it won awards for Best Actress (Ilanit Ben-Ya’akov) and Best Screenplay, as well as an honorable mention for Best Film, was just released and is playing at theaters throughout Israel.
Although now she is working on a play called Man Woman Youth, about a triangle involving a married couple and a younger man, she is taking time off from rehearsals to promote Alice, a movie that she thought about for years before she actually made it.
Alice tells the story of depressed woman who can’t connect to her own child, feels trapped in a dull marriage, and works as the night supervisor in a boarding school for teenage girls who have no other place to go.
When I ask Goldberg, who turns out to be a very youthful looking 34-year-old, why she chose this unusual job for her heroine, she says, “When I was 15 years old, I went through a crisis and was hospitalized, briefly, in a place like that.”
While she was developing the screenplay, it was important to her “that the story be told through the point of view of a person who is a treatment worker, and not a patient. You can learn a lot about society through the personality and the fears of a person like that, who in so many ways is not valued – is not paid well – but has so much responsibility for hours all night for such a troubled group of people.... The important thing for me was that there can be a fine line between patients and the treatment worker, between the people getting the treatment and the person providing it.”
She didn’t base Alice on any particular person, but on “many people I remember from this treatment center.”
Another aspect of the character that helped Goldberg shape the story is Alice’s deep discomfort with her own child.
“Women today have to the perfect wife, the perfect professional, the perfect lover – and the perfect mother.
But what if a woman doesn’t fall in love with her child? What if a baby is born and you don’t feel that connection?” While Goldberg, whose partner is a psychologist, says she understands that “in recent years, there is some awareness of post-partum depression, there still isn’t enough understanding of mothers who are going through a rough time being mothers.”
While mothers are often portrayed in the media as longing for their children and being reluctant to leave them and go back to work, “not everyone feels that way.”
Going on the website, Tapuz, a forum for Israelis dealing with all kinds of psychological issues, she found a section devoted to women who don’t want to have children. “I read a post by a woman who has two children and says she regrets having them. I thought a lot about that, what her life must be like.”
Goldberg herself has chosen not to be a mother, saying, “I feel the need to create [artistically] every day and if the child cries, you need to drop what you are doing. I didn’t want to take this kind of responsibility.”
Goldberg’s character has a different problem: “Alice has to take care of everyone, but she can’t. The love she can experience and give is limited.”
To represent Alice’s emotional landscape visually, Goldberg chose to shoot the film in muted colors.
“There’s a lot of brown, off-white,” she notes.
“Then, when her son is around, there is yellow, green and orange, the only bright colors in the film.
The child brings something alive to the movie....
The look of the movie helps represent the gradual deterioration of Alice as a character.”
Goldberg had many inspirations for her film, among them Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, the story of an alienated widow, and the films of Michael Haneke.
Goldberg, while hard at work on rehearsals for her show, is also writing a new screenplay, about a grieving mother who runs a roadside café frequented by soldiers.
“It’s a very different kind of a story about a mother,” says Goldberg. “It’s about when a woman like this is left alone for a week and how she copes.”