France, Germany, Israel
I got a call from a woman who introduced herself as the deputy director of Israel’s Libraries, at the Ministry of Culture – she invited me to present my film THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER to the Library of Sapir, a tiny, remote village in the region of Arava, at the other end of Israel. There’s a wide desert, few people living there, lots of sand – it’s a place I’d never been to before.
Over the phone, she sounded unexpectedly young for her position, and very kind. As she tried to answer my questions, she told me how her passion for literature – a passion she developed as a young girl, without any support from her relatives that didn't like reading – led her to run the local library down the street, and later to hold a position at the Ministry of Culture. She said that over the two previous years libraries had become key cultural centres in villages where you couldn’t find cinemas or theatres. So, the whole cultural, artistic activity was handled by the people in charge of libraries within the Ministry of Culture, in other words by herself.
Just before we hung up, she mentioned a form I had to fill out and sign so that my presentation of the film could be greenlit. In addition to some technical info I was supposed to include in the form, I was expected to pick out of a list of topics that of my presentation – and promise to discuss that topic with the audience, and no other.
That seemed fishy to me. Especially these days when free speech in Israel has turned into a gloomy winter sun, growing dark and dying. And the leader of that anti-free speech campaign happens to be the Minister of Culture herself.
I said to the libraries’ deputy director, “I assume that the list of topics complies with the topics allowed by the government, and that those people have trouble accepting other people’s opinions. And that they silence whoever disagrees with them”.
After a short silence, she said to my surprise, “I’m not proud of what I do in this job. For the past two years, they’ve tried to control everything. They can’t stand whoever disagrees with them”. She immediately begged me to sign the form anyway and to still come to the desert place to present my film to the people in this remote village.
After we hung up, I called a lady friend of mine who works as a reporter for the only high-brow, independent paper left in Israel. She was also surprised by such a straightforward confession coming from a key civil servant, and she asked me if I could record her unbeknownst to her. I thought it was impossible ethically speaking. I pictured how devastating it would inevitably be for the young woman I’d been talking with, once the recording was out in the open. In the best-case scenario, she’d be dismissed from the Ministry of Culture and she no longer would be eligible to work as a civil servant.
I went down south to Arava. The desert all around me was boundless and empty. What few people I came across were Israelis of a kind I wasn’t familiar with. I signed the form in question. When I met with the audience, after the screening of the film, I more or less spoke as I usually did. Maybe unconsciously I was getting more careful.
A few months later, the minister of culture initiated the law of loyalty to culture, forbidding the funding of any artwork deemed unfaithful to the government. This law could be passed at any time. The relative democracy that still prevailed is gradually shrinking. We’re experiencing the end of a certain Israeli mindset – true or false – that I grew up in. This definitely marks the end of Israel as I’ve known it.
It could be the inevitable fate of a country ever at war – the fate of a country where everyone, including myself, has experienced war, took part in it, in violence. I don’t have a clue. I’m neither a historian, nor a sociologist. Oddly enough, artistic free speech has become the key symbol of this collapse.
In the script I wrote, the film director goes down a road I couldn’t possibly take. He's willing to sacrifice the libraries’ deputy director to slow down the fast-moving fascist tank. Is he a hero? Or a villain? Is he bringing a disaster on a noble, young woman? On a much more honest, brave woman than he is? Or is he dealing with a cowardly woman, doing a rogue state's dirty work? In those dark days, isn't the divide between victims and offenders, the strong and the weak, those higher up and those below, fading? Borders are blurred, we're all together on the same sinking ship.
Y., the director, is harsh, ruthless, arrogant, hostile, furious. Does his rage make sense politically? Or is it only about cruelty? Or is he only just terribly sad as he faces both the death of his mother – which he cannot avoid – and that of his country, which he may still keep from going under. But deep down he knows – he's not crazy and noble enough to pull it off.
Words in this film are a texture, a tune. They're a part and parcel of that world, just like the desert, the sun, loneliness, the feeling of void. They are significant, not only because of their meaning, but also because they're spoken. Words are like a music growing louder and louder. What drives them forward is Y.'s despair, helplessness and sadness that make him go constantly forward without ever stopping – go ever faster and be ever louder. However, by the end of this crescendo, there's no room for redemption. Y.'s burning manifestos and frenzied speeches make sense and help keep him from falling down and crying.
2021 - AHED'S KNEE
2021 - THE STAR, short
2019 - SYNONYMES
2016 - JOURNAL OF A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER
2015 - WHY ?, short
2014 - THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER
2014 - AMMUNITION HILL, short
2011 - POLICEMAN
2007 - EMILE'S GIRLFRIEND
2005 - KVISH, short
2004 - PROYECT GVUL, short
Cast & Crew
Directed by: Nadav Lapid
Written by: Nadav Lapid
Produced by: Judith Lou Lévy
Cinematography: Shai Goldman
Editing: Nili Feller
Production Design: Pascale Consigny
Costume Design: Khadija Zeggaï
Make-Up & Hair: Noa Yehonatan
Sound: Marina Kertesz
Visual Effects: Dani Cohen, Arnaud Chelet
Casting: Orit Azoulay
Main Cast: Avshalom Pollak (Y.), Nur Fibak (Yahalom)
Nominations and Awards
- Feature Film Selection 2021