A director’s ‘Redemption’

A crowd-pleasing film about the challenge of living in two different worlds in harmony.

A scene from 'Redemption'  (photo credit: VERED ADIR / BOAZ YEHONATAN YAACOV)
A scene from 'Redemption'
Most first-time directors spend more time talking about their movie than about the meaning of life. But Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov, the director (with Yossi Madmoni) of Redemption (Geula), which opens at theaters all over Israel on December 20, is a bit different.
Make that very different.
For Yaacov, this award-winning, crowd-pleasing film about a former rock star who has become religious and, when his daughter needs an experimental cancer treatment, gets his old band back together to raise money “is like a two-sided coin that brings together body and soul in peace and harmony.”
It’s the culmination of Yaacov’s journey, and his thoughts about that journey and the film blend together seamlessly. As we talked, it felt less like an interview than an introductory lesson in hassidic thought.
Yaacov, who became religiously observant years ago, has had a long and distinguished career as a cinematographer on Israeli movies such as the Oscar-nominated Ajami and many television series. He virtually grew up on movie sets, as the son of producer Roni Yaacov, whose credits include Dizengoff 99, Operation Thunderbolt and Sallah.
“I lived and breathed film,” he said. Upon first picking up a camera, “I felt there was light in my life.... It gave me a feeling of home.”
After living in Los Angeles for a few years, Yaacov returned to Israel and began to become more observant and study Jewish thought. Unlike many who choose a religious path in life, though, Yaacov did not give up his career. Rather than causing conflict, his work and his studies enhanced each other.
“The combination of these two worlds made me stronger than if I was here or there,” he said.
In 2011, when he shot the film Restoration for Madmoni, the two became friends and decided to collaborate on this film. They tossed around some ideas and eventually settled on Redemption, which explores the issue of how to balance religious devotion with art, family and friendship.
It’s clear that although Yaacov has spent most of his career behind the scenes, he very much identifies with Menachem, the hero of Redemption, a widower and former rock band front man who has retreated from the temptations of the music world into the quiet life of a supermarket clerk, which doesn’t fulfill him. Although he loves his daughter, he is missing out on the creative energy he felt as a musician, but is frightened that returning to performing will upset the delicate balance in his spiritual life.
The movie is filled with lively rock music infused with a hassidic beat, and it won the Audience Award and the prize for Best Music at the Jerusalem Film Festival this summer. It also achieved international success at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic, where its star, Moshe Folkenflik, won the Best Actor Award, and where the film received the Award of the Ecumenical Jury.
The movie’s success has capped an eventful year for Yaacov. When he shot the film Red Cow, which won the Haggiag Prize for Best Feature Film at the Jerusalem Film Festival this summer and which will be released in January, he fell in love with Tsivia Barkai, its writer/director. The two have since married and had a child.
Interestingly, Barkai has been on a journey of her own. She was raised in the National Religious community of Beit El and has become secular. Red Cow is the story of a young woman’s romantic and sexual awakening in a messianic community as she falls in love with a woman.
“It took courage for me to marry a woman who is not religious,” he said, explaining that although it might seem as if these spouses are going in opposite directions, this isn’t the case. “Lots of things from her life brought her to a place where she can understand me,” he said. The two have been able to help each other in their movie careers as well: Yaacov cast Avigail Kovari, the lead actress from Red Cow, in the key role of Sarah, the babysitter, in Redemption.
His marriage and his film have led to Yaacov examining the very concept of redemption, which he feels is not necessarily connected to religion.
“Everyone wants to redeem himself,” he said. “People battle all their lives with what they find negative in themselves. The little girl in the movie [who, not coincidentally, is named Geula] is a positive vision of the kind of unity that can be achieved when people are at peace with themselves. Although she has cancer, she is the healthiest person in the movie.... Her father’s redemption is to connect to the two worlds, of music and religion, and to live in them both at peace.”