- Written by Stefanos Tsarouchas
S. Tsarouchas: How do you use music in your films in general?
Eran Riklis: Well, I think, it's fair to say that I am a frustrated musician. When I was a kid, I played clarinet, piano, guitar and accordion and many things, but I left it all for cinema. I think, a lot of directors have music in theml. I think in the end, making a film is like composing a musical piece. Certainly in terms of rhythm, kind of nuance, structure and all these rings. So for me the use of music is to compliment the film, but I actually find myself in recent years in a way using less music, because I feel, that I kind of try to get the music from the film itself in a way. I think also, when you look at the scene today in the whole world, you have the American approach, which says, okay, music for 90 min. Than you have the European approach, which is much more minimalistic. I love intelligent and emotional music.
S. Tsarouchas: Would you use music as a kind of actor in a film?
E. Riklis: Totally! I think, that's the main role. In a way it's almost like another character in the film, which reflects inner emotions or thoughts sometimes . But it should only do so, if it can really add something. If it's just there to kind of , to make up a point stronger, then something is wrong with the film, but yes, I think in a way, it's stands on its own, but yet not, because it really has this kind of symbiotic kind of relationship with the movie itself, but I think the best soundtracks are those, that you can also listen to not watching the film. They have something to tell on its on.
S. Tsarouchas: It's not the first time that you worked with Cyril Morin.
E. Riklis: Yes
S. Tsarouchas: When did you met him?
E. Riklis: I met him just before THE SYRIAN BRIDE through a friend actually. I didn't know him before that. It was interesting with Cyril, because I sent him one scene from the film THE SYRIAN BRIDE, which is actually kind of the key scene in the film, where the bride comes to the border, walks down to the gate. It was like a very emotional scene, because she's going for the first time to the border, to see the husband and all that . He sent me 2 min. of music and I listen, called him and I said: “Let's work!” I think, he has a really amazing ability to get the essence of the scene, applies kind of local music themes, very accessible and very kind of westernized in a good way. I think, this kind of combination, for me it worked and also, I really like him personally. So it's really a good working relationship. And we did three films already together.
S. Tsarouchas: What kind of guidelines did you gave him for THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER?
E. Riklis: Well, we had a lot of debates, because I think, the film is structured from 2 parts. We have Jerusalem in the first part. We have Rumania in the second part and obviously, when you think about Romania, you think about Gypsy music. It's almost natural. So we said, okay, maybe not Gypsy music, but on the other hand, how can you avoid it? And than I think, we reached something, which is a little bit, what we did in the SYRIAN BRIDE, which is, we take local elements, local musicians and local voices also, but we support it with a big orchestra or with electronic music and … I think somehow, when I work with him on the music, it's a little bit the way I work on the film, in the sense that I try to be very local, but also at the same time, try to be universal and reach people anywhere. So even a person in China can understand the details of the film. I think, it's the same thing with music. In the end with music in a way, it's easier, because I think it's easier for people to listen to music, even if it's a little bit away from what they are used too, but I think, we really worked the same way, that I've worked on the films. Making the local universal and the universal local, in a way. So it's really this kind of mix.
S. Tsarouchas: When did he got involved? Did you send him the first draft of the script?
E. Riklis: Yes.
S. Tsarouchas: Or did he started with the editing?
E. Riklis: No, I always sent him the script, because I think, he has to know where the film is going and what the story is about. We could start exchanging some ideas. I think, that it's very important and then normally even before the rough cut, I usually send him some scenes, so he gets a feeling of, how I shot the film. He gets to know the actors. He gets some ideas, because sometimes you can see something and say, let's go for something totally unexpected and I think, I tend to have a long dialogue, but it depends, because sometimes you just sit down and have a coffee and come up with great ideas.
S. Tsarouchas: Is it harder for you, because you have also a musical background?
E. Riklis: No, just more frustrating ( laughs). I kind of sit there and I wish, I can write the music myself, but no, for me to understand music, the fact that I played is minor. I love music! I have a really big selection of music and very kind of varied: Jazz, Classical, Rock and it just makes the dialogue easier, but it's the same thing like, before I became a director, I was a camera man. My dialogue with the camera man is easier, because I understand, what he is talking about. I can convey, what I think, but it's important for directors to be at least informed in terms of the elements, that make up the film: Music, cinematography, wardrobe, art. I think, you have to keep yourself up to date to really, to know how to make a good film and to work with you colleagues.
S. Tsarouchas: Here in Germany you are mostly known for political films.
E. Riklis: Yes.
S. Tsarouchas: So, is it a kind of break from the genre?
E. Riklis: I guess, yes and no. When I started working on HUMAN RESSOURCES MANAGER, I felt that it's different, politically it's different. It has also a man in the center instead of a woman in my last two films. I felt that it's connected, because it's connected to the local politics of Israel: Foreign workers, suicide bombs and even just the Israeli character, the Israeli male character at the center of the film, I thought, was a political thing , to show this kind of character. So it's a different kind of storytelling. It's a different kind of setting, but for me it's very much from in the same family of LEMON TREE and SYRIAN BRIDE.
S. Tsarouchas: You spend about a third of the time in Jerusalem. Why so much? Why not go after 20 min. or so to Romania?
E. Riklis: Good question! ( laughs) I don't know. I don't have an answer to that. It's funny actually, because in the beginning, I think the first edit, I had 50% in Jerusalem and then I slowly trimmed it down. I think, it was important to show the human ressources manager in his kind of natural environment, to see how he functions there, one and two it was important, to understand, why Yulia made that decision, to go from Romania to Jerusalem, to change her life, to work there, maybe to live there her whole life! I think, it was important to understand ,why and when she went, on one hand. On the other hand I was trying to show a kind of very normal Jerusalem. Its not a kind of postcard Jerusalem, beautiful kind of. It's just an ordinary city in a way, which has its moments. When he goes to the Russian orthodox church and to understand, maybe he can bury Yulia over there, you get a different kind of angle of this city, but in the end I have no answer (laughs).
S. Tsarouchas: Why doesn't the story play in the present?
E. Riklis: Because of reality. Because really in the early 2000's, 2002, 2003 we had a lot of suicide bombs in Israel. Today it's relatively quiet. So I think, we could not really play it barely realistically now, at least not for the Israeli audience. So we had to put it back into 2002.
S. Tsarouchas: .. yes, but for me Romania didn't change so much.
E. Riklis: Romania not.
S. Tsarouchas: Maybe the present would have been better.
E. Riklis: Yes, but you know, I think from the Jerusalem point of view, it had to be in 2002, because of the suicide bombs. That is the only reason. Otherwise it could be today. It is exactly the same. Romania, it's interesting, because Romania, I think, is like a bubble in a way. It's the same, like it was 20, 30, 50 years ago. On the other hand you go to a shopping mall in Bucharest, it looks better than the American shopping malls. Pretty interesting country and I think it's really in a transition and changing very rapidly. In the end, if you forget about the title, that says 'Jerusalem 2002', it could be today. It looks more or less like any time.
S. Tsarouchas: The film is based on a book. What are the main differences?
E. Riklis: Well, I think the book was a lot more kind of philosophical, about life and death in Jerusalem. It was a little bit more religious in the sense, that this whole voyage with the body had this always kind of crusade like feeling or passion, but I made small changes, which are not important I think, in terms of, for instance the owner of the bakery, in the book it's a man. I felt, it has to be a woman, because a woman, who manipulates the human resources manager, maybe a little bit like his mother, maybe like his lover. You don't know exactly! I found that an interesting change. The reporter for instance is a different character in the book in the sense, that he is the same age as the human resources manager and I thought, he should be younger, because he really represents a kind of new journalism to a kind of extend. I think, that's basically it. The rest was just normal changes, that you make, because you have to tell a story in 100 min. and you don't have the time, that the book has.
S. Tsarouchas: For me the funniest character was the guy in the mortuary.
E. Riklis: Yes.
S. Tsarouchas: Can you talk a little bit about those scenes? Where they improvised? The dialogue? I don't know, because it was so strange, kind of surreal.
E. Riklis: I know. This scene is is always my checkpoint, when I have a screening with an audience. It comes after 20, 25 min. and until then the film was very serious. There isn't a lot of humor and then this moment comes and I always see, if the audience reacts. It always reacts in a very strong way. It jumps in the seats and laughs and then I say, okay, the film is working. So now it's really moving, but nothing was improvised. It was a very well-planned scene. I rarely improvise in terms of dialogue, because I feel, either you make a film that is totally improvised, which is fair enough, but I think, when you are planning something, you have to respect the fact, that you, your writer and your actors, because we do a lot of rehearsals, we change the dialogue of course before, but you make a lot of effort to reach the right words. So I think to improvise on the spot, is in a way not respecting the work. But again it depends on the school of thought, but the scene was very carefully worked out because I think, comedy in general, funny scenes you have to plan very well, because it's very difficult. I think the most difficult thing is comedy. It's very difficult to know, what is funny, what is not funny. Timing! What is the right moment, that you want to make the audience laugh. You have to plan it. It's very difficult to improvise comedy.
S. Tsaoruchas: But the main actors can give you some input, if they say: This is impossible. I don't like it and we have to change it.
E. Riklis: Totally! I work very closely with my actor. So we have at least one month of rehearsal, before the shooting and then all the questions and all the answers and all the thoughts and interventions and changes they come. I think, it's a good process to involve the character, the actors, because in the end really this actor has to believe in his character to be believable on-screen.
S. Tsarouchas: Do you like working with the same team?
E. Riklis: I now made three films with more or less the same team in terms of director of photography especially and the same editor. He and the camera man are very important, also the composer. All the rest changes, because you shoot in Romania or Germany or Israel. It's different people, but I think, if I have the core of the creative people is the same, I think it's good. On the other hand some time it's good to change it also, because you need sometimes a different kind of input. So I think, it's no rules in the sense from my point of view.
S. Tsarouchas: Can you talk a little bit about the work in Romania? Was it hard? I didn't know, if all the scenes were shoot in the winter, because you have so much snow.
E. Riklis: It's all real. We shot in December. Very, very cold! Very tough and yet for me it was easy. I think, the Romanians were fantastic as a crew. Very good people, very young, most of them, very ambitious. Interesting industry, because Romanian cinema is also doing some really good films and they also have a kind of service industry, because they do all the stupid American action films. So they have a good infrastructure and the country, there is something interesting there, because when you are shooting outside the city, it becomes very easy. You go to a village and you sort of say, okay, I need animals, I need extras, I need vehicles, everything is there! People don't have a lot of work anyway, so they are happy and they're also excited. Not every day a film crew comes to their village. So we had a really fantastic time, in the sense I felt very good, that I can stand in the street and I can say, okay, I need 10 more people. (snaps fingers) in 5 min. the people are there. So in that sense it was a really good experience. It's beautiful in a kind of gray way and I thought, this was very good for the story and the whole snow thing! For instance there is a big scene at the cemetery, where they are forced to bury Yulia, and they escape. We didn't plan on that. We woke up in the morning. It was snowing all night. The whole place frozen, because it was like -20°. It was beautiful. It looked like a Hollywood setting. All the crosses and the cemetery, where kind of you know lined with ice. It was freezing to death, but we managed it. We only had six hours of light to shoot the film. We worked very hard and you really gained authenticity from a frozen landscape. I think for me, it was not so much about the snow, but really this frozen kind of feeling, that everything is frozen and dark. It was very good for the story.
S. Tsarouchas: I talked with colleagues about the film and the thing, that bothered them a little bit was the scenes with the tank. It was a kind of impossible, a tank and putting the coffin on top and so on. Is it also in the book?
E. Riklis: Yes, it was in the book. I like it. It's part of the absurdity of the film, but it's also realistic. When we started looking for the vehicle, they took me to the Museum of the Romanian Army in Bucharest and (laughs) they showed me this big area, where they had tanks and missiles. It looked like crazy. Like the Cold War kind of feeling. They said, okay, what do you want? And I said, how about this one? And they said, fine, no problem. (laughs) It was really as easy as that. We payed some money, not a lot. They gave us two soldiers and it was really realistic. It's not really at tank, it's an armored vehicle and it travels one wheels. I think, within the context of the story, I think, it's funny and it's visual. I like it! It's not 100% realistic with the coffin on top, but on the other hand, maybe it is!. Stuck somewhere in the middle and they have to proceed. If it's the only possibility, why not?
S. Tsarouchas: The story plays in Romania. Did you thought of changing the country to some kind of ex-Soviet Union country or to Bulgaria maybe?
E. Riklis: We thought about ex-Soviet Union, but it was really difficult. It is very expensive there. A little bit too far in a certain way. We checked Belarus, and we checked the Ukraine and many places, but in Romania we found a) a good industry, b) a kind of accessibility. Even the difficult locations are easy to shoot, relatively easy and I like the people there. There was a feeling, that anything could be done there, while in other countries, I think Bulgaria, it's the same, but I think, Bulgaria has a different kind of style. A little bit more ... it's very Bulgarian! Bulgaria is more the Balkans in a way. I think, Romania is more in line with, it looks a little bit more like Poland and Hungary. I think, Bulgaria is more unique in a different direction, closer to Greece and to Turkey and those kind of places. I visited Sofia and I think, it's a great place, but Romania somehow gave me everything that I needed.
S. Tsarouchas: How much time did you spend on the script?
E. Riklis: I started working middle of 2008. We shot October 2009, about a year, over a year more or less, but very intense work. My writer Noah Stollman and I, we worked a lot. It was not an easy script in a way, because all these question of balance between Jerusalem and Romania. How much do you give to the journalist? How much humor do you use? They are really questions of balance, but but hopefully we managed.
S. Tsarouchas: What did the Israeli audience thought about the Israeli ambassador and Romania, because, the kind of car they drive, and she wears some fur.
E. Riklis: Well, she is a consul, not the ambassador (laughs). I think, consuls are always a little bit crazier (laughs), because we have all these strange consuls in every country. I mean, for me she is a fantastic character. The actress Rosina Kambus, actually, it's really interesting, because she was a big star in Romania. She left Romania, when she was like 25. Already a serious actress in the Romanian theater. She came to Israel. She has a big career for the last 30 years and I took her back to Romania, which for her was a fantastic experience and people still remember, you know. … I met many people like her in Romania, kind of those women, who had a big history behind them. Very kind of outspoken and colorful! I also met a lot of men like her husband, smart and funny, but very quiet. She is the star! He is only in the background. I like it. I think in terms of Israeli diplomats, okay (laughs). It's fair enough.
E. Riklis: Well, you mean the van?. I didn't know, I fell in love with this van, because it was something ... I was taken to, I think, one of the studios in Bucharest. They have a very big vehicle kind of department and they had two vans like that. That was perfect for me, because one van for that interiors and one for the exteriors. So I took both of them. There was something very special about them, which I didn't found anywhere else. It had this kind of feeling, on one hand it's almost like a Volkswagen, but it's not ...
S. Tsarouchas: It was the East‑German answer to the Volkswagen.
E. Riklis: I like it. I really fell in love with that and there is something about its image. Even when you look at the poster, you look at the other elements in the film, it represents the film in a way. For us it was a very interesting experience, because it was really, we are also traveling in this van. Me and my cameraman, the sound man and all that. So it was kind of doing the same journey.
Interview with director Eran Riklis by Stefanos Tsarouchas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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