Arts & Culture

Jewcy Interviews: Etgar Keret

If Etgar Keret wrote pop songs, his singles collections would be legendary. His short fiction encompasses a broad stylistic range from tautly composed fables to much more realistic portraits of daily life. His fiction oftentimes sets normal situations somehow askew, … Read More

By / April 5, 2010

If Etgar Keret wrote pop songs, his singles collections would be legendary. His short fiction encompasses a broad stylistic range from tautly composed fables to much more realistic portraits of daily life. His fiction oftentimes sets normal situations somehow askew, with results that can be brutally horrific or curiously reassuring. From April 5-7, the Brooklyn Academy of Music will host The Surreal World of Etgar Keret, encompassing three very different films: $9.99, an animated adaptation of his story of the same name; Wristcutters: A Love Story, Goran Dukic’s afterlife road-trip adaptation of Keret’s novella "Kneller’s Happy Campers," and Jellyfish, set in contemporary Tel Aviv. It’s the last of these — written by Keret’s wife Shira Geffen, and co-directed by the couple — that was the focus of many of these questions, exchanged via email just before Keret’s visit to New York.

What is the experience like for you of watching another writer adapt your work for the screen?

It’s like being in a reader’s head. When you write something you never know how it feels when you read it. When you see an adaptation you do.

In the process of assembling this series, was there any discussion of including shorter-form adaptations of your work along with the three features?

It never came up as an option.

To what extent has working as a director changed your view of what the mediums of film and prose are capable of? In Jellyfish, there’s a visual motif in which the subject of an establishing shot is revealed to be something other than what it initially appeared to be. Did that arise out of a purely cinematic line of thought, or were you looking to emulate a sensation you had previously evoked through prose?

I think that Jellyfish is a very "literary" movie. My wife is a poet and the screenplay read a bit like a poem. I’ve felt that many of the shots were formed like literary devices.

 

You’ve also written several graphic novels; do you find the process of writing for this medium to be similar to writing for the screen?

It is different because it is much more intimate and you are more in control.

Has working as a director affected how you have adapted your work for the screen?

I usually prefer not to adapt my stories. An adaptation is a reading of a text and a writer’s reading is usually less surprising and interesting. $9.99 was a great experience but I don’yt believe I’ll write any more adaptations in the recent future.

In trying to think of other writers who have also directed films, not many come to mind — Paul Auster being a notable exception. Was making a film something you had always aspired to, or did it arise as a result of your writing?

I also wanted to tell stories. Film making is one way of doing it, but I never dreamed of being a film maker- only a story teller.

Was Jellyfish the first film you had been involved with in a role other than as the writer?

I’ve co-directed a Israeli TV drama before called "Malka Lev Asom".

 

  One of the film’s main characters doesn’t share a common language with the people she’s hired to watch over. Given the importance of language to many of the other characters, did you know from the outset that there needed to be a character who didn’t have common language to rely on?

Israeli is an immigrant country and the situation in which you find yourself unable to communicate verbally with someone is common. This particular story was based on Shira’s grandmother and her Philippine helper. It was the last story of the three that Shira came up with and the moment she wrote it it became an essential part of the film