Director Pini Tavger on the life behind Israeli film 'More Than I Deserve' - interview

The movie won the Best Screenplay Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival and was nominated for six Ophir Awards.

A SCENE FROM ‘More Than I Deserve.’

‘I think the movie is more relevant than ever today,” said Pini Tavger, the director of the new Israeli feature film, More Than I Deserve, which opened throughout Israel on Thursday.

The movie, which won the Best Screenplay Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival and was nominated for six Ophir Awards, tells the story of Pinchas (Micha Prudovsky), a preteen boy growing up in Israel with his stressed single mother, Tamara (Ana Dubrovitzki), a recent immigrant from Ukraine. She just laughs when he says he wants to take free bar mitzvah lessons from Shimon (Yaakov Zada-Daniel of Fauda), a Chabadnik who volunteers to help secular kids learn their Torah portions, but the boy is drawn to this thoughtful, encouraging man, who becomes a father figure to him. His mother finds out that Pinchas is taking lessons even though she forbade him to and she eventually gets to know Shimon, which leads their lives in unexpected directions.

The political situation is so charged now, and this is a story about tensions between haredim and new immigrants. There’s also the dimension of Ukraine, that’s the background of the boy and his mother, and the situation there today,” said Tavger, a young stage and film actor making his feature-film directing debut.

While the movie is not strictly autobiographical, Tavger said he was inspired by certain experiences in his own life when creating the story. Born to immigrants from Russia and Ukraine, he grew up in a home where Russian was spoken, like Pinchas in the movie, although his parents were more Zionist than the boy’s mother in the film, and immigrated to Israel in a much earlier wave, in the 1970s. 

“But like Pinchas, my parents divorced when I was a kid and I was raised by a single mother. I longed for the presence of a father and I met a neighbor, a Chabadnik, who got me excited about religion and told me about the source of my name, that Pinchas was a hero,” he said, as Shimon does in the movie. “I was jealous that he had a big family, Mizrahi and warm, I liked the togetherness when they went to synagogue. I decided I was becoming observant – for two weeks I put a kippah on my head. I was six and it terrified my mother a little and she said, ‘When you’re 13, you can decide to be observant if you want.’”


HE CHOSE not to and studied acting and filmmaking at Tel Aviv University, but he thought back on that moment in his life and it became the basis of a short film, Pini, that he made in 2008. It was similar to the full-length movie, but focused on a younger child and ended when the mother objected to the boy spending time with the Mizrahi family. 

I happened to catch this short film when it was first shown years ago and I was blown away by the touching story, the acting (Evgenia Dodina played the mother in the short version) and simple but eloquent script. I told myself at the time that I would look out for the full-length movie, if it ever came along.

In More Than I Deserve, Tavger has expanded and deepened the story, developing Shimon’s character in particular, and making him a fuller and more flawed figure. He also focuses on a boy who is bar mitzvah age, rather than six, and so more willing to rebel and question.

Tavger talks about his own childhood

Tavger is quick to add that while his own mother was hardworking and single, she was not neglectful like the mom in both the short film and More Than I Deserve. “I would say the film is 50/50 when it comes to reality and imagination.”

As an actor himself, he enjoyed working with his cast. “Yaakov [Zada-Daniel] is a great actor. I thought he brought so much depth to the role of Shimon. I wanted him to meet with a Chabadnik, a friend of mine who became ultra-Orthodox, to learn what Shimon would be teaching Pinchas, and also to learn the body language, the intonations.”

In the challenging role of the mother, who is so stressed she can barely provide the basics for her son, Tavger feels he was lucky to have worked with Ana Dubrovitzki. “She threw herself mentally and physically into the role – if only all actors would throw themselves into a role like that.”

Micha Prudovsky, the son of Leon Prudovsky, who directed the recent comedy, My Neighbor Adolf, “didn’t want to be in the film at first, but I convinced him to do it. He would tell me his thoughts and [I saw the] his pain on his face. He was very natural.” There is also a certain physical resemblance between the director and his young star.

Growing up, Tavger went to many movies in Haifa and Tel Aviv with his mother and was influenced by “filmmakers with a realistic style,” such as Ken Loach and Andrea Arnold, and Italian neorealist films, especially Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief. But while working on More Than I Deserve, he particularly tried to emulate Francois Truffaut’s coming-of-age masterpiece, The 400 Blows, a film which shows, with no sugarcoating, how one young boy is let down by the uncaring adults in his life and turns to crime out of despair.

“I could have made More Than I Deserve in a very Hollywood-y way, but I wanted to tell a story that was real. I wanted to show characters who can’t escape from the reality they are trapped in,” said Tavger. “But I think that there is some light at the end, something that comes out of their connection.”