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Tzahi Grad • Director

“We have to start talking”

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- VENICE 2017: Cineuropa talked to Israel’s Tzahi Grad, whose third feature, The Cousin, premiered in the Orizzonti section of the Venice Film Festival

Tzahi Grad  • Director
(© La Biennale di Venezia - foto ASAC)

In The Cousin [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Tzahi Grad
film profile
]
, which he wrote, directed and acted in, Tzahi Grad talks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – this time mirrored by an incident in a small community. Through the story of Naftali (Grad himself) and his Palestinian worker Fahed (Ala Dakka), accused of a crime based solely on hearsay, he points out why sometimes it’s important to put aside our differences and – however hard it may seem – just try to talk them through. 

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Cineuropa: Your character, Naftali, is a media celebrity. He is a bit like you, in fact.
Tzahi Grad:
 It’s difficult to direct a film and act in it at the same time. By making him more like me, I knew I would be able to handle it. At the beginning, I wanted him to be more of a nerd: a bit like Woody Allen. But then I would have had to focus more on my acting. Actually, after reading my script, [director] Samuel Maoz asked me, “You wrote it and you want to direct it. Why do you have to play him, too?” I didn’t have a good answer to that. I just felt like I had to do it.

Did you actually shoot the film in your own house?
It’s my house, my kids, my car ­– I also initiated a similar social initiative. Many things in this film are real because I used everything I saw around me: even the cracks on the ground. Normally when you write, you don’t know your future location. I did. It made everything so much easier because it was always within my reach.

Naftali thinks that you have to bring people together in order to solve their problems. Do you think that’s true, or is he just naïve?
I believe it could happen. We trust the media too much, and all they are showing are bombings, ISIS, all these problems. It’s frightening, but there is so much more. I really think that if, instead of blaming each other, people actually sat down and started talking, they would see that “the other” is often just like them. But it takes time because we have been fighting for years. Our leaders believe that all you need to do is sign some papers, and everything will be fine. No – it takes time. I am not Nelson Mandela or Shimon Peres, but I can take a few steps, and hopefully others will follow. We drink the same water, so why can’t we figure out how to live together?

People in your film don’t want to sit down and talk; all they want is an excuse to act up.
They are afraid. So much of what we do is motivated by fear. Do you know what happened to me the other day? I was driving back home and saw two police cars heading in the exact same direction. Then I saw another one and three people on the ground, getting arrested. Right next to my house! Just the thought of it still makes me scared.

If you knew there was a convicted paedophile living in your neighbourhood, of course you would worry. This conflict has become part of our lives, and it’s difficult to finally let go. And also, the people in my film are a little bit bored – they are looking for something exciting to happen. 

Nobody here is perfect. For all his idealistic ideas, at one point, even Naftali would rather just turn and run away.
Most of the time, Naftali is trying to defend Fahed. But he is lying to him a bit, so after a while, he goes, “I just don’t know.” He can’t handle it any more. It’s almost as if he was going down the hill, not knowing where to stop or where it ends, and suddenly he just falls. In The Cousin, you don’t really know who the bad guy is. You just feel that something bad is about to go down. Filmmakers should make the films they like, and I like to make people think. I have to believe that what I am doing is right. Maybe someone like Woody Allen doesn’t have to be enthusiastic about every single one of his films – after all, he makes one a year. But I think you always have to come into this thinking you are making the best film in the world. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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