Nadav Lapid • Director of Ahed’s Knee
“I’m not script-driven in the traditional way; the lead character is the existential melody of the film, the heart, the music”
by David Katz
- CANNES 2021: The Israeli director discusses his formally bold new film, how a typical “Lapid” protagonist is born and the influence of rap music on his approach to performance
In recent years, Nadav Lapid has been no stranger to uncanny delays. In 2018, his Paris-set film Synonyms [+see also:
interview: Nadav Lapid
film profile] had its post-production period shifted back, leading to a belated 2019 Berlinale premiere, where it triumphed under Juliette Binoche’s jury to win the Golden Bear. And just as he got Ahed’s Knee [+see also:
interview: Nadav Lapid
film profile] in the can (pun intended) in December 2019, the pandemic scuppered his attempts to capitalise on his career momentum. He opted to wait a whole year for a 2021 Cannes competition debut, where it has been one of the most fiercely appreciated films among the critics.
Cineuropa: When exactly did you decide to make this film, and were you confident or more hesitant when embarking upon it?
Nadav Lapid: I think the whole fabrication process for this film was extremely different from my previous ones. For those, it always happened pretty early while working on a previous movie that I started to imagine the following one. Here, I wasn’t thinking at all, either about this film or my future one, until three to four weeks before I started writing it. The true events that led to the script took place in mid-April 2018. I was meant to do a lecture, and there was a form I had to fill in. At the same time, my mother was very sick. It was agonising. My mother passed away on 2 June. Three weeks later, I started to write, then I wrote the script in two weeks. I wondered if it was going to be a short film or a medium-length because there were 17 scenes originally, with everything happening more or less in the same locations, and with two characters. Today, I’m still surprised that the movie is one hour and 49 minutes long.
When devising the lead characters for your films, what inspires you? Do you create elaborate backstories; do you have a sense of where they are before the film and after it ends?
I remember that, from time to time, with The Kindergarten Teacher [+see also:
film profile], I imagined her in prison, still trying to write a decent poem, finally finding inspiration. I’m not script-driven in the traditional way, but for me, the lead character is the existential melody of the film, the heart, the music. What would he have been if the story hadn’t happened? I don’t like people who are solely their stories; I like people who are led by a sense of existence. The guy from Synonyms, if he hadn’t gone to Paris, he would have stayed in Israel; things would’ve happened to him, more or less the same things. There’s something that pushes him – to freeze to death in an apartment. Why is Y. [from Ahed’s Knee] what he is, before being asked to complete the form? The films are a platform to reveal their essences to us.
Could you talk about the movie’s forceful sense of anger, or what could be called “articulate rage”? Has that been diluted in your mind, given the delay of 18 months between finishing principal photography and premiering it here at Cannes?
What you say is super true – this is the first time that I can’t tell myself what I think about the movie in the most basic way. It’s totally loyal to the existential, the intellectual, in the moments that it was made. It’s a bit like the strange gesture that you make on a night of drunkenness, at the same time bizarre and very sincere – and the next day, you wake up, happy that it’s morning and that no one knows what happened last night. It’s like a movie that was determined: as if you finish it with your last breath, days before, and you run with the DCP to the Lumière.
Rap music clearly inspires you – one can see it in the long, furious, isolated monologues in your films, in hindsight. Can you expand on this?
Clearly, it’s a monologue: he’s a rapper, and it’s like Eminem; I told him that the thing is to go beyond and eliminate the screen. For me, this is the key to rap music: you suddenly feel there’s nothing around except for the words, the voice, the space and the beats – there are no guitars a lot of the time. And I told him at a certain moment, “Even the screen will not be able to save them.” While shooting the long monologue scene, he was getting closer and closer, and the more he became agitated, the more he started to shake the camera himself, which was affixed to a special rig. It's a way to destroy the screen.
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