The dark side of the capital

The city is part of the cast at a thriller showing at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

The city is part of the cast at a thriller showing at the Jerusalem Film Festival (photo credit: IDO BERLAD)
The city is part of the cast at a thriller showing at the Jerusalem Film Festival
(photo credit: IDO BERLAD)
If you’re going to make a dark thriller in any city in this fair country of ours, it’s got to be Tel Aviv, right? Wrong.
While the big city at the western end of Highway 1 has got everything going for it in the way of urban glitter, grime and sleaze, Benny Fredman begs to differ. He shot his contribution to this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival – which goes by the no-nonsense title of Suicide – in the festival’s host city.
Suicide is a revelation for all Jerusalemites, or anyone else who digs the capital. Fredman doesn’t go for too many touristy landmarks, although much of the urban spread is on view at various junctures during the movie.
The YMCA is in there, and the Bridge of Strings, and there’s the odd glimpse of the Old City walls, but the director has not relied on “sexy” locations to add oomph to the on-screen action. One uniquely Jerusalem feature does appear as something of a continuity thread – the Light Rail – and Fredman makes intelligent use of the trains and the train route.
According to the director, Suicide simply could not have been anywhere else. “One of the major changes that has occurred in Jerusalem in recent years is the building of the Light Rail,” he says.
“We start out with the Old City walls and then make the transition to the newer part of the city, and the Light Rail leads us across that. But, you know, the city is part of the actor cast. We looked for some uniquely Jerusalem idiom, and the Light Rail is just that.”
The basic elements of Suicide seem to come straight from a classic film noir. There’s the femme fatale Dafna Tzur, played consummately by the sultry Mali Levi, the uptight husband – Oded – who runs into more than a spot of bother played even-handedly by Rotem Keinan, a bunch of stock heavies and even a Bogartesque world-weary dipsomaniac private eye, and a wily detective played superbly by Dror Keren.
On the face of it there doesn’t seem to be anything new about the work, and as the story unfolds you get the feeling you know just where the action is headed.
Wrong again. There are umpteen twists and turns, and the plot thickens incrementally as various characters appear to be in cahoots with each other, only for other collaborations to drag the plot laterally and back again.
Fredman was delighted to shoot his first full-length feature in his own backyard.
“When a Jerusalemite makes a film in Jerusalem you see that from the first moment all the way to the closing scene,” he observes. “There is a special Jerusalem ambiance to the film. I think that comes through strongly.” It does.
The storyline of Suicide was prompted by an experience Fredman had a few years back, before he got into movies.
“I was in the hi-tech sector at the time and a supplier I knew seemed to be a bad way,” the director recalls. “He lived up North so I went to see him with a friend, to check out the problem.”
It transpired that, like one of the central characters in Suicide, the supplier had fallen foul of a loan shark.
“You know, there are some people who live like that, on the edge, and they literally don’t know how they are going to survive another day,” continues Fredman. “A while ago, a friend of mine and I drew up a list of people we knew who were financially secure, and all the others who were constantly trying to make ends meet and pay off debts. I think there were three who had made it and around 70 who are always running after money. So the story of the movie isn’t farfetched at all.”
Fredman says that making Suicide was something of a roller-coaster, and he kept his nose to the grindstone for almost two years.
“I spent months away from home, and I was always on the road to Tel Aviv, because most of the actors lived there.
I hardly saw my youngest daughter in the first few months of her life. Yes, that was quite a price to pay, but when you’re making a movie you’ve really got to be into it.”
Some of the evolutionary process of the plot was fueled by the actors themselves.
“Dror [Keren] is amazing, and you never know what he’s going to bring to a scene,” says the director. “You know, I can be with him in a restaurant and he can do all sorts of things, and you don’t know if that’s the real Dror or if he’s in character. With some actors, when you start a scene you tell them to give it everything, or to hold back a bit at the beginning and to build things up. With Dror, he gives you so many different things in every take, and every take is brilliant.”
Keren’s tough-as-nails detective character also has a soft side to him, and he is clearly highly intelligent. He knows the ground rules and he’ll stretch them as far as they will go, but he won’t overstep his mark. In Dafna Tzur, the loving yet scheming lawyer wife, the detective appears to have met his match. Or has he? He is clearly dealing with a woman who knows the ropes, but he too has been round the block a few times. Their cerebral tussle is one of the highlights of the film. The drama goes on, the tension mounts and the surprises just keep on coming.
They say that when times get tough people tend to head for the realms of fantasy or comedy, anything that offers them an escape route from the grimness of their reality. That doesn’t appear to be what Suicide offers us. Fredman is not so sure.
“They say that the violence in [leftfield movie director Quentin] Tarantino’s movies is pleasurable,” remarks Fredman. “There’s pleasure in comedy, but there’s also pleasure in suspense. There’s the music in a thriller that is so important, and that really opens things up.”
Music plays an important role in Suicide. “I like thrillers – dark thrillers,” says Fredman. It shows.
Suicide will be screened at 10:45 p.m. on July 12 and 9:30 p.m. on July 17. For tickets and more information: or *9377.