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Amichai Greenberg • Director

“Life is complex, and the journey of creating this film has helped to heal me”


- VENICE 2017: We chatted to Israeli first-time director Amichai Greenberg, whose The Testament is taking part in Orizzonti at the 74th Venice International Film Festival

Amichai Greenberg • Director
(© La Biennale di Venezia - foto ASAC)

We met up with Israeli debutant director Amichai Greenberg, whose film The Testament [+see also:
film review
interview: Amichai Greenberg
film profile
 is taking part in the Orizzonti Competition of the 74th Venice International Film Festival, to discuss his inspiration, the power of memory and the importance of identity today.

Cineuropa: What was the inspiration for The Testament?
Amichai Greenberg:
 My inspiration for this story was silence – loaded silences. I was brought up in an emotional and existential void, and it took me years to be able to put it into words. The story I chose portrays a man stuck in between gaps. It portrays the silence of his mother as she hides her truth and the silence of the local villagers denying their history. 

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Did you base your story on real events?
The historical background of the film is inspired by the actual massacre of Rechnitz, in Austria. Most of the names and dates are accurate. The Austrian testimonials shown in the film are by actual villagers, whose names I've changed, and who were interviewed for the 1994 documentary Totschweigen (A Wall of Silence) by Eduard Erne and Margareta Heinrich, who were so kind as to allow me to use their footage. The substantial difference is that in reality, the mass grave was never found.

Do you think the Holocaust is still a subject that affects people’s memories?
I guess it depends who you ask... For me, this isn't about intellectual memory, but rather a more visceral one – that memory that resides in your flesh and comes from things that you have never seen but that still affect you deeply. Events that you have never discussed, but you feel the void that they leave behind. As a matter of fact, most of the witnesses in the film forget, confuse or deny. And this is what we’re left with.

What led you to create a film that is closer to a thriller than a drama?
I do not want to impose emotions, especially when the Holocaust is in the background. It is better to allow people to relate to the mystery and to choose, if they want, to be involved emotionally. My main aim was to create a real interest for the audience, and for the story to have an actual relevance in our contemporary life. I wanted to offer a fresh, new perspective on the importance of identity and how we have access to it, and to observe what remains when we lose it and have nothing left behind.

Is the Jewish identity still considered so important nowadays?
Jewish identity is a very charged and intense ingredient of Jewish life, even today. Nevertheless, in The Testament, I'm interested in asking how identity is relevant to all of us as humans, and what defines us as who we are. I also find this question extremely relevant to the Western world these days.

How was your experience co-producing with Austria?
I must say I was intrigued. The crew, the actors and the producers were extremely warm and kind, even though I'm sure the script wasn't easy for them to digest. I saw they were emotionally moved enough to participate in the movie, and that also moved me. On the other hand, as I was scouting locations in remote villages in Austria, I saw those memorial plaques for World War II Nazi soldiers with fresh flowers laid on them. It shocked me, especially knowing that my father, who was a seven-year-old kid back then, had been running for his life just a few kilometres away, 72 years prior. Life is complex, and I find the journey of creating this film has helped to heal me.

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