For Giddi Dar, making a film like Ushpizin was like being a stranger in a strange land. Though he’s a native Israeli, the ultra-observant Hassids are of another ilk. Thanks to his friendship with his male lead Shuli Rand (a converted Hassid), he had an opportunity to make a movie that steps into this world and brings the audience with him.
The L Magazine: Were you intrigued by Hassidism?
Giddi Dar: Until this movie, I wasn’t specifically into Hassidism. I was interested in Kabala and mysticism because the main [subjects] that [interest] me are fiction and people’s imagination. I believe that we all live an [imaginary] world where we have no access to reality — whatever it is, if there even is such a thing.
The L: How did you come by this story?
GD: Shuli [Rand, the screenwriter] and I worked together on the movie in our own perspectives — he’s from the religious perspective and I’m from the psychological perspective, following the mind of a believer rather than being a believer. When we talked about doing the movie, we said, “Ok, let’s try.” He replied, “Well, ok, but what are we going to write about?” and I said, “Let’s write something about life.” In real life, Shuli was actually in the role of Gabbay, the man whose Sukkah was being taken away from.
The L: Were the actors Hassidic?
GD: What you see is what you get. It’s the real thing. The more substantial roles are real actors. Every one of the main actors are real actors. The rabbi used to be a martial artist actor! We based [his character] on Shuli’s rabbi. He’s the only rabbi who stepped forward and said, “I really want you to do this movie. It’s a great movie.” [He’s] so open-minded. Step-by-step, he helped to build the movie.
The L: Will Shuli continue to pursue acting?
GD: Yes. His rabbi told him that’s what God wants him to do.
The L: What about non-actors?
GD: The inspector at the beginning is a non-actor. The central one was very famous in an Israeli TV series. When he became religious, they made him commit suicide in the series. This movie opened a door that nobody opened before. We opened a window that now many people can come in through.
The L: How has people’s interpretation of Hassids changed?
GD: Not very much. This society is very isolated by [its] own choice. We can’t ignore that. This actually brought a lot of problems [regarding] that. People don’t like if you’re isolated. They don’t understand you, they’re afraid of you, [and] they hate you. That’s the way it goes. They say you have satanic desires and stuff like that. But that’s also what kept them together for 2,000 years.
The L: Was it a box-office success in Israel?
GD: It was a huge hit — both left and right. The left was freaked out by this movie. Everybody saw it. I was so shocked that they can like these people.
The L: What do you feel about current Israeli films?
GD: The main problem with Israel is that the Zionistic center has collapsed. The country is dispersed to all directions like all trends. Suddenly we find this power of variety, so there’s a big question about where this culture is headed to, which is bad for this country, but good for art. For me, Israeli films go in many different directions. They don’t deal with the center of politics because [it] collapsed.