Meet the woman who documented Israel’s leading contemporary author

There is a scene that no one will ever see.

At one point in the editing stage of the documentary Gross man, screenwriter and director Adi Arbel, along with Alma Films producers Arik Bernstein and David Silber, arrived at author David Grossman’s home in Mevaseret Zion and presented him and his wife with a coded disc with saved film footage. at.

“Can you imagine what that is like, after having gained trust with him for two years?” Arbel asks. “David told us, ‘We want to see it for ourselves. If you come back and your bags are out, just grab them and go. ‘

So Arbel, Bernstein, and Silber turned and went to the nearby mall to wait. When they got back to the house and didn’t see any bags on the way, they breathed a deep sigh of relief and little by little their pulses returned to normal.

Then came the hugs, soft hugs consistent with the documentary vibe: level-headed, sensitive, and exposed, but only in the way Grossman chose to be.


DAVID GROSSMAN is one of Israel’s leading contemporary authors. He is the winner of the Israel Prize for Literature, the Man Booker Prize and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, in addition to a long list of other awards.

He has been known to stubbornly refuse to be interviewed and yet in this documentary he looks directly into the camera and opens his heart. Every word you say is measured as your brain cells merge with your soul.

Almost everything he says sounds like poetry: he describes sitting on the “bathtub sill” and describes the “edge of his bed.” Within all this fluidity, he looks to the side and, for a moment, his expression is that of a small child, similar to how he must have looked in the 1950s while at a party at his parents’ house, as he looked around. of all the guests and realized that, one day, they would all be dead.

The opening scene of the film takes place in a large room in Croatia, while Grossman reads a segment from his book. More than I love my life. Since then A horse walks into a bar was published in 2017, for which he received the International Man Booker Award, he has been meeting with the translators of his books before they begin. Just Grossman, the translators, and the divine spirit. Only this time, he finally agreed to let the cameras in to capture this process.

“For years, he’s turned down every offer to make a movie about him,” explains Arbel.

“We decided that the opening scene should be from one of his sessions with his translators, in which he reads a selection from one of his books. He meets with his translators for a week in a secluded place, and then all the translators read the entire book.

“I heard that [Nobel Prize-winning German novelist] Gunter Grass could have done this as well, but as far as I know, Grossman is the only writer who does this. “

Bernstein and Silber had asked Grossman for permission many times in the past to film these sessions, and he finally responded by saying, “I will allow you to agree to film them.”

When a person learns that his books are translated into 45 languages, he cannot understand this in the same visceral way as when he watches him interact with all of his translators.

“Arik called me up and began to describe Grossman’s session with the translators,” Arbel recalls. “Arik said that David could agree to let us film one of these sessions. I immediately replied, ‘Fantastic. I’m on my way.’

“Every day, I am grateful to have had this opportunity.

“We flew to Croatia together and by the end of that week, I had agreed to have even more filming sessions.

“At first, he told me that he just wanted to talk about his writing. I told him it was okay. Grossman’s writing is equivalent to life itself, and life is writing. We spent hours talking. Upon returning from Croatia, he turned to me and said, ‘Adi, I agree that you mention Uri’s name.’

“We develop a special relationship in Croatia. We talk about our mutual love of books and discover that we speak the same language. A natural connection was created between us through words.

“The next task was to sit down and formulate a detailed script. I sat down with David and his wife, Michal, and we read it together. These types of documentaries are created from the dynamic connection between the director and the people who film the scenes.

“I wanted to tell the story of David’s life through his books, but it was also important to me that Michal was included. They have been a couple since they were 18 years old. She was his first reader, the first to comment, and they talk about everything.

“So many things happened behind the scenes. I kept reminding David that this would be our movie. It took me a while to gain his trust, but he’s very smart and understood where he was coming from right away. It didn’t take him long to realize that I was a huge fan of his books. “

  “There were so many things behind the scenes.” (credit: AMIT HACHMOV)

“The writing process involves the disintegration of the writer’s psyche,” says Grossman in the documentary, which delves into the writing of several of his books, including The book of intimate grammar, The Lamb’s Smile, See below: Love, The Yellow Wind and Until the end of the earth.

The documentary also includes entries from Grossman’s personal diary, which he writes in parallel with his novels, as well as personal videos documenting the conversations he had with his parents around the kitchen table, as well as with their young children.

In one clip, Grossman is seen answering questions in the recording studio with his sons, Yonatan, and his late son Uri, who was four years old at the time. The boys would ask him philosophical questions, like “Do you think a person’s spirit can change?” and “Do you know what will happen in the future?”

“Since Uri died, whenever I sit down to write I look for that moment, in which I touched life and death at the same time,” says Grossman in the documentary. Uri was killed in the Second Lebanon War in 2006 when he was only 21 years old. “One thing I’ve learned from writing is that the only way we can contemplate the emptiness of death and at the same time feel the fullness of life is by writing. That is what I look for when I write, to get to that place for a few moments where I touch them both ”.

At the screening of the documentary at the Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival, Grossman said: “I would like to thank Adi, who instinctively understood how to guide us wisely and gently, and was sensitive to all the nuances of such a situation.

“This documentary is more than a compilation of data about a specific person. It is a story that is slowly gaining momentum. I often think about how lucky artists are. Although we live in an insensitive world, we insist on expressing even the smallest nuances, which bring such a special pleasure ”.

IN THE PAST, Arbel directed Life as a rumor, a documentary autobiography of Assi Dayan, which won an award from the Israeli Film Academy, as well as Personal questions: Gila Almagor and Yaakov Agmon, produced by Liran Atzmor. Most recently, along with Tamar Mor Sela and Liran Atzmor, Arbel created a witty monologue on sexuality called Awake.

“When people tell me that the Grossman movie was a compassionate movie, I feel validated,” says Arbel.

“On our last day of filming, I asked David, ‘I know this has been difficult for you. Why did you agree to make this movie? He replied, ‘I want people to read the books.’ That was his motivation. “

Arbel chose to make Grossman the focus of the film, which is rare today. Documentary makers generally stand at the center of their films, while the plot and main characters are left out.

“I told the filmmakers, ‘I want to film his face in such a way that everyone who watches the movie feels that Grossman is sitting in the room and talking directly to them,” continues Arbel. “If I move into the frame and the viewer sees me, that ruins the fantasy I’m trying to create, which is a direct connection between Grossman and the viewer.

“I felt very fortunate to have this unique opportunity to sit face to face with him. How many people get to work with people like David Grossman?

“After watching the movie, some people come out thinking to themselves, I should go read all their books. Others are inspired to write. How awesome is that? Because of the way we shot the documentary, no one talks about my appearance or why I asked specific questions. “

One hundred hours of footage was condensed into a one-hour movie.

“We had to shoot so many great scenes,” explains Arbel. “For example, there is a scene where David says to all the translators who are sitting with him: ‘Each person creates a story from their life experiences, then polishes it and presents it to others. Sometimes you are offered the opportunity to get out of your story. ‘

“Eventually, after we edited our footage over and over again, I finally understood something that I knew all along, but had to go through all this experience to really understand: David has been involved in a battle with death since the age of four or five. He says, ‘I live like I’m going to die tomorrow.’ He faces the concept of death in each of his books, and it is what motivates him to work ”.

What did Arbel learn about Grossman while working on the movie?

“We know that he is fully committed to his characters and that they are very much alive in his mind. For one thing, when you walk into your office, you fly to far away places. This part is beautiful. But on the other hand, this process is also destructive. Grossman himself says: “I go to places that devastate me, scare me.”

  “IT IS COMPLETELY committed to its characters.” (credit: CHRISTIANA PAPA)

“David told me that writing his book See Under: Love almost killed him,” reveals Arbel. “People imagine that authors are having a positive experience when they write, but when David closes his office door and sits down to work, he enters a different world and becomes part of the story. And for this, you pay a high price.

“He is humble, benevolent, genuinely interested in others, and incredibly sensitive.

“I am very grateful for this opportunity and for the deep friendship that has formed as a result of working together in this remarkable endeavor.”

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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