Sitting at a café near the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on a recent Friday morning, movie director Savi Gavizon could be any urbanite relaxing with a cup of java. Instead, he’s savoring the success of his latest film, Lost and Found, which recently opened throughout the country.
Featuring an Israeli all-star cast – Maya Dagan, Sarah Adler, Alon Abutbul and Lior Ashkenazi – this drama of two sisters and their tangled romantic and professional lives has the kind of comic overtones and irony that you might associate with Woody Allen movies over the last 20 years. Gavizon, who co-wrote the film with Dana Modan, is thrilled at the audience response the film received.
“We’ve been having lots of screenings, but this is the first time I’ve seen it with an audience that went out and paid,” he says. “There seemed to be a group that had come with a work organization, and that gave the auditorium a good energy. It’s interesting: When there are fewer people, it’s a more tragic film. When the audience is larger, it’s more comic, there are more laughs.”
The interplay between tragedy and comedy is a constant in Gavizon’s work. His last film, Nina’s Tragedies (2003), told the story of a young widow, played by Ayelet Zurer, who tries to put her life back together, and the confused nephew who adores her. It might sound like a melancholy scenario, but there were many laughs throughout the film. His earlier films, which both starred Moshe Ivgy, Shuroo (1991) and Lovesick on Nana Street (1995), also got audiences laughing when they least expected it.
“When you’re laughing at someone, you’re above him. When you’re crying, you’re identifying with him, you’re on the same level. So the quality I’m trying for in the film, the tone, comes from that movement, from being above the character and then with him,” he says. “I like to play sad music during a funny scene.”
But although the viewer is often taken by surprise by these shifts in tone, the writer/director isn’t.
“I know where the laughs will be,” he says, although he admits that very occasionally, he gets a surprise, as he did when an incredibly dramatic speech late in Lost and Found inspired some laughs.
You might expect a director as experienced as Gavizon to be a bit jaded while doing publicity for a film, but he’s full of energy and enthusiasm as he answers questions. Asked why he prefers not to address political questions in his films, he analyzes the development of political themes in Israeli cinema.
“Israeli film was the first medium to really deal with the Palestinian problem. It messed up the films a little; some of them were very serious and heavy. But then television and the newspapers took on the issue, and movies started to move on and look at personal life,” he says.
As Israeli cinema developed, so did Israeli actors. Gavizon has always worked with Israel’s finest thespians, including Ivgy, Sharon Hacohen, Shmuel Edelman and Keren Mor in Shuroo; Ivgy, Hana Azoulay-Hasfari, and Uri Gavriel in Lovesick on Nana Street; and Zurer, Alon Abutbul, Anat Waxman, and Yoram Hattab on Nina’s Tragedies. Working with gifted actors, says the director, is the “ray of light” in his work. “I love working with people who are good at what they’re doing, who know what they can do. With filmmaking, with the production aspects, there are a lot of compromises, but with the acting, you don’t compromise.”
Gavizon, who studied film at Tel Aviv University and now teaches there, initially thought he would be a television reporter, although, “My mother wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer.” Raised in Haifa, Gavizon says his parents were always supportive, in spite of the fact that his father, a policeman, and his mother, a supermarket worker, were surprised when their son turned to the arts. But at Tel Aviv, he was inspired by teachers who related to films as holy texts and he decided, “Movies are the most exciting thing there is right now.”
Gavizon, who like many Israeli directors, has worked in television (on the series, Love Hurts), says he still prefers film, even to quality television like The Sopranos. “When there’s a new film out, by someone like Lars Von Trier, say, I feel like, I need to see it. And I don’t feel that with television.” He cites some of the biggest names in film history as his inspiration as a director, including Fellini and Bergman, but also mentions the quirky films of Bertrand Blier. However, Lost and Found was originally conceived as an 11-part television mini-series and Gavizon is recutting it for television now. The series will be airing in March.
Asked how he feels about the renaissance in Israeli film over the past few years, he says, “It’s wonderful, like a miracle. I can’t believe it’s happening. Every festival all over the world has to have an Israeli film now, and Israeli films are winning all over.”
Nina’s Tragedies was shown in competition at Sundance, and Gavizon has submitted Lost and Found to Sundance and Berlin and is waiting to hear from these festivals.
Although Gavizon seems easy-going, for one moment during the interview, he reveals the determination that a director in Israel needs to get his films made. When a man with the world’s loudest leaf blower starts working near the table where Gavizon is being interviewed, everyone at the nearby tables is annoyed, but only he gets up and gently persuades the man to work elsewhere.
“I just told him we were trying to do an interview here,” he says, and then wraps up the interview, saying he has no Hollywood dreams on the horizon. “I’m so happy to have found this place here, where I can work at what I love and develop my work.”