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VENICE 2018 Orizzonti

Yaron Shani • Director

“Feeling good is part of the problem”


- VENICE 2018: We met up with Israeli filmmaker Yaron Shani to talk about Stripped, an ambitious drama presented in the Orizzonti section, exploring the unsettling subject of sexual violence

Yaron Shani • Director
(© La Biennale di Venezia - foto ASAC)

With his previous feature, Ajami [+see also:
film profile
, co-directed by Scandar Copti and enjoying a successful festival run culminating in an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign-language Film, under his belt, Yaron Shani moves in a brand-new direction with Stripped [+see also:
film review
interview: Yaron Shani
film profile
, the first part in the upcoming “The Love Trilogy”, detailing the story of a young boy’s infatuation with an older neighbour and further blurring the already unstable borders between reality and fiction. The movie is screening in Orizzonti at the Venice Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: Why did you decide to digitally obscure certain body parts in the film, and even faces?
Yaron Shani: There are many reasons for it. First of all, this film is not “fictional” in the common sense of the word. It’s fiction, yes, but there is so much personal truth in it. I don’t see Alice and Ziv [played by Laliv Sivan and Bar Gottfried] as fictional, and neither should the viewers. They are alive, and they demand sensitivity and respect. You have to respect them as human beings, as you would in a normal documentary. Among other things, Stripped is also about “the other”. And who is this other? Is it a person or a faceless body you can objectify? It’s something that you need to get accustomed to, and seeing the next two films will help.

If that was the issue, why not just cover them up?
Because it’s a film about the body: nudity, shame and violence deriving from sex. I wanted to show that while you can go a long way, sometimes you know when to stop. It’s interesting because when I am not showing everything, it seems more exposed. You notice it more – you notice there is something that needs to be covered. I want the viewers to trust me and feel that if I am doing something like that, I probably have a reason for it.

You asked your actors to actually become their characters for the entire duration of the shoot. What were you trying to achieve?
We worked for a year to build something that could really be alive. It wasn’t something scripted. When Ziv is asked to play the guitar and he refuses, it wasn’t me – it was him. I couldn’t write this kind of dialogue; I was just there to pick it up. After we finished the shoot, we had 360 hours of material; that’s more than on a documentary, but unlike a documentary, we knew where we were going. I did my research, and then I found them, so I re-wrote it according to their personalities and to what I thought they could bring. During the shoot, they were free to just be there. After we finished, we had so many possibilities that I “wrote” it again in the editing bay. It’s a brand-new approach to acting, screenwriting, directing and anything else. The next parts of the trilogy are going to be a bit different, telling different stories with different characters. You can see only one and be satisfied, but I shot them at the same time, and it’s all connected: it’s the same universe.

Rape is very often used as a narrative tool nowadays – an explanation for why a complex female character is the way she is. How did you want to approach the subject without making it seem like you were taking the easy way out?
As an adult male, I wanted to try to understand what it means when your body is taken away from you. I needed to be modest and sensitive about it, and I needed a method to provide Laliv with enough space to explore it. In the film, the attack itself is not an issue. The issue with Alice is what it feels like to be a human being that someone else is exploiting. What is the meaning of it? One of the things that trouble me in the cinema is that people tend to focus only on this terrible act. But what’s before and after is where the real horror lies.

Did you ever think about Krzysztof Kieślowski’s 1988 A Short Film About Love while making it?
Yes, but not only that movie. This story about a young boy falling in love with a beautiful older neighbour – we have seen it so many times. I was thinking more about this classic comedy concept of a bunch of boys finally getting to have sex.

A bit like Risky Business, then.
All roads lead to Tom Cruise [laughs]. The Israelis have their unique problems, but so does the rest of the world. In every culture, toxic masculinity is causing similar problems. So even though I made a film about a boy called Ziv, in his uniqueness, he represents people that live everywhere.

After the success of Ajami, did you ever consider moving onto more commercial projects? Stripped, and the upcoming two films, seem to be suggesting something completely different.
I remember these two agents approaching me and telling me to come to the States. But what would I do there? In Hollywood, they would never let me make a film this way. It’s mostly about entertainment and making money, and as you can see, I am not really into that. I want to talk about suffering, because I feel it’s important. It’s something we need, but it’s not something we want. We all want to feel good, and that’s part of the problem, as we have to experience pain in order to understand why we are here and how we can connect to another person. Hollywood films don’t offer that. They make you feel comfortable, and then you just go home. And nothing ever changes.

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