Natalie Portman to direct an Israeli movie – Interview

Husam Asi with Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman is to direct and star in a film adaptation of the renown Israeli author Amos Oz’s novel “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” from a screenplay she has written herself.

Set in the second half of the 1940’s, the story focuses on Oz’s childhood in light of his mother’s mental illness and his father’s helplessness while the battle between Jews and Arabs rages over Palestine, leading to the establishment of the state of Israel.

Speaking at the D23 expo in Anaheim California, where she was promoting the upcoming Disney fantasy blockbuster Thor 2, the Oscar-winning actress says that the book touched here so deeply when she read it many years ago, that it has remained etched in her mind. “And it has transformed too as I have gone through different experiences, so I have seen it from different perspectives, and when something stays with you for that long it feels it has to come out,” she enthuses.

Nonetheless, The Harvard graduate didn’t want to do a faithful adaptation but rather present her own interpretation of the book. Hence she was relieved when the author told her to make it her own piece of art. “It was really freeing, because obviously what he wrote inspired me in some way, and he was like ‘express that,’” smiles Portman, who promises that the film will be a completely different experience.

Other Israel-related films made by Hollywood Jewish directors such as Steven Spielberg’s Munich (2005) and Julian Schnabel’s Miral (2010) were condemned by the US powerful pro-Israel lobby for humanising the Palestinians. Hence, making a movie inspired by a left-leaning author, such as Oz, who is known for his sympathy towards the Palestinians, will probably provoke controversy and ignite the wrath of the Jewish hardliners. In fact, the book has been translated into Arabic and can be found is bookstores in the Arab world. But the Jerusalem-born actress, whose Israeli parents immigrated to the US when she was only 1 year-old, insists that her movie is apolitical.

“It’s really a story about people and a family at a particular time in history,” she says. “I think the best way for people to understand each other better is to hear particular stories.  That’s a beautiful thing that film can do, that literature can do, that you can read about another culture, and another country, another place and see that they go through things that you go through and feel things like you do and that they make mistakes like you and all the complexities of what human beings are like. That makes you feel closer to them as people and not as a member of another culture.”

A Tale of Love and Darkness will be Portman’s directing debut. The Hollywood star, who will also be playing Oz’s mother, will be shooting the film in Jerusalem.

“I am very excited to about going back to Israel,” Portman tells me in fluent Hebrew.