Arts & Culture

Interview with Beaufort Director Joseph Cedar

Towards the end of Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, the first Israeli film nominated for an Academy Award since 1984, an activist opposed to the war in Lebanon excoriates himself on a television talk show for the death of his son, Ziv, … Read More

By / May 1, 2008

Towards the end of Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, the first Israeli film nominated for an Academy Award since 1984, an activist opposed to the war in Lebanon excoriates himself on a television talk show for the death of his son, Ziv, a bomb specialist in the Israel Defense Forces.

By having this grieving parent blame himself rather than generals or politicians for what happened to his child, Joseph Cedar makes a distinct ideological gesture, underlining how Israel as a whole is responsible for the continuation of the now sixty-year-old violent status quo. And by placing the responsibility for communicating such a message on the shoulders of a peace advocate, Cedar makes it clear why he believes we ought to take seriously what liberal Israelis like Ziv's father have to say.

In his earlier feature-length films, Time of Favor (2001), and Campfire (2004), as in Beaufort, the New York-born director created studies of Israel's internal struggles so detailed and accurate that they could almost function as academic monographs. Always guided by an identifiable set of political positions, Cedar's commitments consistently structure his narratives, providing a sense of optimism and resolution at every hopeless juncture. In each instance, Joseph Cedar's outlook and artistry are mutually reinforcing, making his stories speak to us that much more strongly. We walk away from his films understanding Israel better because we saw it through his eyes.

I spoke to Cedar at the end of March about Beaufort, and his next project, on which he's already hard at work.

- Joel Schalit, Zeek Media Editor

ZEEK: The last time you and I spoke, you had just decided to make a film about Veit Harlan, the director of the legendary anti-Semitic drama, Jud Suss (1940). In Harlan's film, Jewish businessman Suss Oppenheimer destroys a dukedom and rapes a German girl. What exactly is your film about? I take it that it's a lot bigger than just a biopic.

CEDAR: So far, most of the scenes are about an artistic drive that overrides everything: Harlan's moral sensibilities, his personal loyalties, and his common sense. What he's really out for is to tell a good story. Harlan thinks he understands Suss, he thinks he identifies with him, and he loves the kind of villain he's making. Harlan thinks he understands who this Suss is, but forgets the whole context. That's how he convinces his actors, that's how he convinces his entire crew – and this is a top notch crew – to go along with such a project.

ZEEK: They'd all worked with directors like Fritz Lang, right?

CEDAR: The production designer was Otto Hunte, who did Metropolis. The composer was a man named Zeller. But everyone (initially) said no. Nobody wanted to work on this film.

ZEEK: How did Harlan win them over?

CEDAR: Harlan was able to convince them because he was giving them his passion. It's not until just prior to the film's release that he finally realizes that he's being manipulated himself. When he realizes that he's done something that he regrets, he can't live with it. He doesn't know what to do. Then, after the war, when he's acquitted (on charges of anti-Semitism), he's just stuck. One of the things Harlan realizes about Suss is that he has nothing to lose. [When Suss is executed] he can finally be who he is. He doesn't have to lie to anyone. He can say what he wants, and not care about the consequences. And Harlan says, ‘I never had that."

ZEEK: That's an extremely complex portrait of the director.

CEDAR: It's still changing, but I found out that that's what most of the film is about. When it's done, we'll see what the film is really about. (Laughter)

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