Amos Gitai • Director
“The only measure of peace is everyday life”
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2018: Cineuropa talked to Haifa-born Amos Gitai about his comedy A Tramway in Jerusalem, in which he warmly embraces the city’s diversity
Shown at the Venice Film Festival along with his short A Letter to a Friend in Gaza, Amos Gitai’s A Tramway in Jerusalem [+see also:
interview: Amos Gitai
film profile] focuses on its inhabitants, facing each other’s differences over the course of a short tramway journey from the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Shuafat and Beit Hanina to Mount Herzl. Starring the likes of Pippo Delbono, Mathieu Amalric and Hana Laslo, it premiered out of competition.
Cineuropa: Apart from local characters, you also decided to show some foreigners in A Tramway in Jerusalem. One of the most colourful episodes sees Pippo Delbono interpreting a Catholic priest and quoting Pier Paolo Pasolini to other passengers.
Amos Gitai: I love Pasolini and I am happy to quote him anytime [laughter]. I was also hoping to quote Roberto Rossellini, but I couldn’t figure out when to do it. They both reinvented the language of cinema. Just look at Germany, Year Zero. Americans would go and make these comedies about World War II and Rossellini showed that sometimes it’s the whole country that can become the biggest victim of all.
I know Pippo very well. He is very creative and a bit of an anarchist, but then he starts talking about the New Testament and almost manages to convert you. And then Mathieu Amalric, who plays a tourist in the film, reads this completely secular text by Gustave Flaubert – a man who hated all religions and priests. I like modernity and I am not religious. But I am not hostile to it – I am curious. If my neighbour, who is a Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Haifa, invites me for Shabbat one day, I will respect his ritual and if I go to a mosque, I will take off my shoes. But religious people are just like secular people. Even though they think they’re different.
It’s probably the warmest film you’ve ever made. Why do you like these odd, lost people so much?
You are absolutely right – this film loves people. Europeans, Israelis and Palestinians. In my mind, Jerusalem is a mosaic city. That’s what’s so great about it. It’s small, and yet it’s the centre of these three great monotheistic religions. It indoctrinated half of the world. The rural area is on the west, but then you move a few hundred metres east and what previously seemed like a Mediterranean climate suddenly turns into a desert. I always say that the only measure of peace is everyday life. I wanted to gather all these people together and portray a complete mixture of characters that, although it might be just my wish, are able to co-exist in this extreme place or, just like in the film, at least on the same tramway.
You show people from different backgrounds, with different religious beliefs, often confused by their personal choices. Were these characters fully formed from the very beginning?
I just wanted to pay homage to all these fantastic people: Pippo, the Israeli singer Noa [whose song is heard at the beginning of the film], Yaël Abecassis, Hana Laslo, who worked with me on Free Zone, or the wonderful actress Lamis Ammar, who doesn’t want to play traditional Arab women anymore. I wanted our set to be like our film, with all of them finally coming together. And also, the Orthodox Jews in my film are actually Orthodox Jews. In real life, they would never sit next to a woman, but they do it in the film. Cinema can perform miracles sometimes.
It’s often mentioned that you trained as an architect first. Do you think it still influences you in some way?
Of course. Cinema is not like painting or writing, where you’re all alone. You have to transmit your ideas and stick to them at the same time. It’s a collaborative art and as a director, you have to listen and welcome other contributions. I never studied cinema, not even for one hour. A few years ago I did a series of master classes with Abbas Kiarostami in Italy and Brazil. When students asked me what my advice was for them, I said: “Go and study architecture.”
Robert Mitchum once said that studying film is a bit like studying to be tall. It makes no sense.
And that’s why we see so many bad films! Great directors often come from very different backgrounds – take Nicolas Ray, Michelangelo Antonioni or even Eisenstein, who was an engineer. We need more free spirits. I actually learnt this from my actress, Jeanne Moreau. She once told me: “Amos. If I do a film, it’s because I can learn something I don’t know.” I am the same way. A lot of people I meet only want to repeat what they already know or what they’ve already done. I am not interested in that at all. I am a curious guy. When I make a film, it means that I am asking a question. And then I have to answer it on my own.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.