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TORONTO 2017 Discovery

Matan Yair • Director

“Asher gave me the inspiration”


- Cineuropa caught up with Israeli filmmaker Matan Yair to talk about his debut film, Scaffolding

Matan Yair  • Director

Israeli filmmaker Matan Yair's first film, Scaffolding [+see also:
film review
interview: Matan Yair
film profile
, a real-life story starring non-professional actor Asher Lax as himself, world-premiered in Cannes’ ACID programme and went on to win Best Israeli Film at the Jerusalem Film Festival. Cineuropa caught up with the director at the Toronto Film Festival, where the movie is screening in the Discovery section.

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Cineuropa: The story of your film comes from your personal relationship with Asher Lax, who plays himself in the movie.
Matan Yair:
 Actually, it's more my story than Asher's. A few years ago, he was one of the students in the class I was teaching, and he was very violent, but I found him interesting. I saw a special energy in the way he moved and talked. The most emotional thing for me was the relationship between Asher and his teacher, who is close to becoming a father figure for him. But he is not a classic father figure; the character of teacher Rami (Ami Smolarchik) has more of a feminine aspect. He is someone that Asher was lacking and who listens to him, someone delicate, emotional and less masculine.

Asher feels like his teacher sees him as a person, unlike his father (Yaacov Cohen). I have been dealing with my relationship with my father for years as a writer and filmmaker, and Asher gave me the inspiration to build a relationship between two people who are very different to each other, but something brings them together. 

How did you work on the script and structure of the film? Was it together with Asher?
I told Asher very early on that I was writing and thinking about him as the person to act in the film. When I had the draft of the script, we started reading scenes together because I wanted to see if he could do it and check if I was on the right track, vocabulary-wise. It turned out that it fitted, and I kept writing, and then he got the part. I wanted to construct this relationship between Asher and his father at the beginning of the film and to make it very clear with the slap scene that this is the central relationship: masculinity and love, and this physical hitting, are what represent the dynamic between them. When Asher's father slaps him, we understand that this happens all the time. He takes it on the chin and life goes on.

After that, I went on to the teacher. This relationship was built up very slowly. The teacher notices Asher, touches something inside him and feels his soul. And this piques the interest of Asher, who has the curiosity of a cat, as well as the physique of one. It was important to show that while he was working on the scaffolding. Also, the film had quite a low budget, around €400,000, so the places that we filmed, the school, Asher's house and the scaffolding, gave it a special look.

How was it shooting with a non-professional actor who has lived through the story of the film?
Asher was very dedicated during the whole filming process. I knew that he would bring a lot to the movie with the way he spoke and moved, and I knew that I didn’t have to instruct him very much. I also had a feeling that he would deliver what was needed in the scenes where he had to be more emotional. I feel that Asher has this ability to move very quickly, but naturally, from being aggressive and masculine to something much softer and more delicate. This change is very interesting and very cinematic because you watch something that you are not used to in real life. I used that throughout the film.

I also wanted Asher to feel free and enjoy it, so I told him that the script was not sacred, that he could adjust it and do other things, and that everything he did would be fine. I think this freedom gave him, and us, the chance to enjoy working on the film. 

How did you edit the feature?
We tried not only to get the best out of the shots, but also to put Asher's character in the centre and try to have his personality expressed by the general feel of the film. First we tried to start and finish each scene with Asher, so the cut between scenes would be from Asher to Asher, even if it meant compromising on establishing a new location or a new character.

Second, on the dramatic-aesthetic level, we tried to keep Asher's prickly temperament in the cuts, sometimes cutting almost in the middle of the action, and on other occasions, we connected movements between two scenes. There are also cuts that combine connecting movements with hectic transitions. Those two completely opposite methods of cutting represent Asher's dual character and give the film a pacing that reflects Asher's behaviour.

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