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Israeli film maker Ronit Elkabetz

 Israeli film maker Ronit Elkabetz
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Ronit Elkabetz and her brother Shlomi have been putting the finishing touches to their latest film – Seven Days. Elkabetz is the ‘diva’ of Israeli cinema – acting and directing – and in just ten years, the country’s cinema has become a force in the film world. Elkabetz, known internationally as the star of the film “The Band’s Visit”, talked to EuroNews in her favourite cafe, about Israeli society, 60 years on from the state’s creation.

EuroNews: “Seven Days is the story of a family which has to stay together in a house for seven days. A lot happens in that time. People start off arguing, there are a lot of conflicts and increasing tensions, which ratchet up and then they calm down. Is this a little bit symbolic of Israeli society?”

Elkabetz: “This is a country which was born in front of the camera. In other words, it was filmed from its creation until the present day, the state of Israel has been full-face, in front of the entire world, with everything that occurred with the conflict with the Palestinians which is at the centre of everything – but people don’t actually know anything about Israeli society.”

EuroNews: “So how are the changes in Israeli society reflected in the changes in Israeli cinema?”

Elkabetz: “It is incredible what’s going on right now, in cultural terms, there’s this incredible renaissance and extraordinary things are happening. We’ve sort of put to one side the political vision in our cultural history, but even as we sit here drinking our coffee, it seems to be calm – but it’s not really calm: and I have to say, that that’s what it’s like here, even if you make a film in Israel about the relationship between two people, just chatting over a coffee, that can become explosive, from one minute to the next.”

EuroNews: “Is Israeli cinema starting to look inside itself and discover new things by examining the lives of individuals?”

Elkabetz: “That’s it, absolutely. You could say that Israeli cinema is now more feminine.”

EuroNews: “The European Union is looking to back co-operative productions in the region, between Israel, Turkey, Palestine and other countries. That would be through financial support, and I wonder: is that something artificial, putting together such and such a director, to really create regional co-operation- or it is something which can really lead to better understanding?”

Elkabetz: “Really, I believe that can achieve positive things, truly. The government can’t do it. It’s what we can do, the ordinary people, the artists who can create true dialogue. What do we need to do? We have to talk, just that. But to speak simply. With words based on love – not with words of fear, that’s it. What is required from us for peace? Just simple words! A man, a woman, a man with a man, two women, all just getting together, talking to each other, in an open way, accepting the other people as they are.”

EuroNews: “Sixty years after the creation of the state of Israel, I’m interested in where that society is now and what inner truths they can get from your films?”

Elkabetz: “It is too, too difficult to be born in a country at war and to grow up in a country at war and also to grow old in a country at war and nothing changes. All that we do comes from this situation , a mix which is neither peace, nor war, not black, or white – but something in the middle. It’s a kind of nightmare and a nightmare that is not yet at its worst, in other words, the dream is that it’s improving and the nightmare is that it’s not yet as bad as it could become and it could get worse.”

EuroNews: “And that really raises the question for an artist: which is the relationship between politics on the one hand, and art on the other hand?”

Elkabetz: “I feel that I have a responsibility to use my heart, my body, my spirit and my knowledge of the entire society such as it is. Which means, the political situation and our personnel lives which form part of the political situation: they can’t be separated.”

EuroNews: “I have the impression that Israeli cinema is very influenced by documentaries. Is it risky to be so very attached to reality, to real, personnel stories?”

Elkabetz: “The success of Israeli cinema started at the time when people started to film things in a documentary way, in the country, what was happening on the streets and in people’s lives. They are intimate stories nevertheless, but Europe also tells intimate stories.

EuroNews: “Is that perhaps what they have in common, Israeli and European films, this delving into intimacy?”

Elkabetz: “It is our common point, absolutely. The country has six million inhabitants and 15 or 20 different cultures, from all over the world and they all live on top of each other. Which means that in a single building in Tel Aviv, I can meet a Georgian, perhaps in my dreams a Palestinian, and occasionally, a Romanian, a Moroccan, a Pole, a Russian, people from every country. There’s an extraordinary richness there, which enables us to tell stories through these people! It’s a rich culture!”