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Moshé Mizrahi          Michal Bat Adam

Moshe Mizrahi and Michal Bat Adam

These two interviews were conducted by email.
Moshe Mizrahi the director of Rachel's Man and his partner Michal Bat-Adam responded to questions they were sent by the interviewer, Dr Andrew Spicer.

Questions for Interview with Moshe Mizrahi

1) What was the creative genesis of Rachel’s Man (RM)? Why did you want to make a Biblical story?

At one point you say (letter to Michael Klinger (MK), 23/7/73) that ‘the main problem was and is to keep out of the too known incidents in the story and concentrate more on the unusual aspects of their love relationship’. What were these ‘too known incidents (Jacob’s Ladder?) and what were the ‘more unusual aspects of their love relationship’?

3) What was the relationship between RM and your previous films, particularly I Love You Rosa, Daughters, Daughters and The House on Chelouche Street?

4) As I understand it, you first met MK at the Cannes Festival in 1973. Was your idea for RM fully formed at this stage or did it evolve in conversation with MK?

5) Why were you attracted by the idea of working with a British producer and specifically with MK? Did you feel that he understood your ‘vision’, your conception of RM? Why not an Israeli producer? At one point in the correspondence, Henry Ohana is mentioned. Who was he?

6) Were there problems about MK principally using South African financiers?

7) As I understand it, MK’s responsibility was the international cast. Were you consulted about the choices: Leonard Whiting, Rita Tushingham or Mickey Rooney?

8) I’m particularly interested in Rooney as Laban because, in the early stages of the project, Topol seems to have been in the frame for the role. Why did he drop out and why was Mickey Rooney chosen? What did you think of his performance?

9) What was MK’s role once filming had begun? Did he delegate his authority to his son Tony as he was filming Shout at the Devil? What was your relationship to Tony K?

10) Was RM always intended as an Israeli film? Did you ever think, particularly in view of the recent war, of filming elsewhere?

11) What dictated the choice of locations for the film? How far were you constrained by the aftermath of the war?

12) Your original budget was £72,000 ($175,000). Eventually it became c. $640,000. Why was this? Was the original intention for a modestly budgeted ‘art house’ film rather than one that cost as much as a major feature film?13) You refer to the shooting of RM as ‘nightmarish’. What were the difficulties experienced during the film’s production?

14) There’s little in the Klinger papers about post-production. How was this done, where and by whom? Was the editing completed to your satisfaction?

15) You seem to be disappointed by the way that RM was handled in distribution and marketing by both Allied Artists and Hemdale. How, in your view, should RM have been promoted?

16) Were you disappointed by the Israeli authorities support for the film? MK seems to have been particularly incensed that the Golan-Globus heist thriller Diamonds was ranked higher than RM and therefore entitled to a greater level of state support.

17) What is your view of RM in hindsight? Are there aspects of the film you would have changed?

Moshe Mizrahi: answers to questions about Rachel’s Man (12 October 2010)
Genesis (1, 2, 3, 4)

My work as a filmmaker started in France in 1969. Since then I wrote and directed 15 feature films and two television mini series. (see attached filmography). Prior to “I love you Rosa”, I directed “The Traveler”, a French film shot in Israel and “Les Stances a Sophie” also a French Film, shot in Paris. My third film was to be the Israeli film: “I love you, Rosa”.

“I love you, Rosa”, selected as the Israeli film in competition by the 1972 Cannes Film Festival was to be the trigger to my meeting with Michael Klinger. The film was very warmly received at the Festival. The film Producer, Menahem Golan, sold the film’s rights almost everywhere, including the US and most European countries. The film was to be, at the end of the year, nominated as Best Foreign film at the Oscars of 1972.

Michael Klinger, who was at the screening in Cannes, expressed the desire to meet me. We met a couple of times and he said that he was interested in my projects and would like to be involved in my future work. In our talks I understood that he was very much taken by the love story in “Rosa” and it’s settings (old Jerusalem). He used the term “Biblical love story” and asked me if I would be interested to write and direct a story inspired by the Biblical Song of Solomon. I must confess that at the time Biblical costume films were not at all what I had in mind for me. I told MK that I had different ideas about films I wanted to make. I must say that I immediately liked the man. His simplicity, his sense of humor, his cockney accent and the fact that I learned that he had been involved in the two English films of Roman Polanski (“Repulsion” and “Cul de Sac”). We convened to meet later and continue to discuss what could be a future collaboration between us. At the end of the Festival, in view of the success of “Rosa”, I signed with Menahem Golan to write and direct a new film, which I shot in August 1972 and was to become “The House on Chelouche Street” and my second nomination as Best Foreign Film at the US Oscars of 1973.

I met with MK in London two weeks after the end of the Festival. I think that it was at this meeting that MK came up with the idea of making a film about Jacob and Rachel. He surely was very taken by this idea that I was the ideal man to treat that kind of story. He used to say that this was not only the first real love story in the bible but also the “first kiss” ( the kiss at their first encounter at the well). Until today I confess that this “romantic” side of MK was for me very surprising. It is not what I would have expected from him.

We met again at the 1973 Cannes Festival. I screened there “The House on Chelouche Street”. He was impressed by the film. I had in the meantime shot “Daughters Daughters”, a third Israeli film for Menahem Golan which was selected later to be the Israeli entrance to the 1974 Cannes Film festival. We continued to talk about the possible collaboration between us and he kept bringing up the Rachel and Jacob story. I had at the time a short treatment of a project set in Paris. A dark sort of thriller. I proposed to him that I could develop the treatment and set the story in London. He, reluctantly I think, agreed to let me show what I had in mind. I set to write my thriller idea which I called “Quietus”. We met in London in October 1973. The day that the Yom Kippour war started. He read my extended treatment of “Quietus”.

He obviously didn’t like the story and continued to bring back the Jacob and Rachel story. He thought that I had a special talent to tell unusual love stories. He was I must say very persistent about it. And right. As my latter films proved to be. I returned the next day to Tel-Aviv.

I kept thinking about the Jacob and Rachel story and how I could make a film that would avoid the pitfalls of the Hollywood cliché of a Biblical story. I was at the time very much interested by the mythologies of ancient middle East religions. I have read Robert Graves’s “White Goddess” which influenced me very much. I said to myself: why couldn’t I try to replace the Jacob and Rachel story in the context of the underlying mythological contents that exists in Genesis. I remembered Robert Graves ‘s postulation in the White Goddess that the name “Israel”, that was given to Jacob after his fight with the angel at the crossing of the Yabbok river, probably came from “Ish Rahel” the hebrew words for “Rachel’s Man”. A practice, common to the old matriarcal religions of the Middle East, was to give a new name to the man who marries the woman representing the Goddess. A that moment I had a “poetic” title for the story. I became convinced that I could then try to film not only the love story but build a new narrative and an original way to treat the Genesis story. I wanted to give a new meaning to the story that would avoid the monotheistic narrative that after all evolved much later with Moses, who founded what was to be the Jewish religion as we know it today. I submitted my ideas to MK. He seemed to like them. In the months to come I started to write the screenplay with the help of Rachel Fabien, my ex wife.

Working with an English Producer. (5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12)
When MK read the script he said he like it. He was also impressed by my second nomination to the US Oscars (The House on Chelouche Street). We agreed to enter preparations for producing the film.

When we first approached the question of production of “Rachel’s Man”, I viewed the film along the norms of an Israeli production. The budget of my three Israeli films in 1972-1973 ran around $120.000. I think that’s reason why the first budget was set at $175.000. But after reading the screenplay it became obvious that the film needed more financing. The film had to become an English speaking international production to justify a more important investment. Accordingly the film budget grew up. Officially the film will keep being an Israeli film though financed by foreign funds. The official Israeli Producer would be the Producer-Distributor Matalon, who had previous dealings with MK. In this way, the film would benefit from the help and funds of the Israeli Film Center. I was not involved in that choice.

In my whole career as a filmmaker I avoided being involved in the problems of production, distribution or promoting of my films. All I was interested in was to keep my artistic independence. Once we set, the Producer and I, the scope of the production and its guidelines to insure the film necessities, each one of us had the freedom to take care of his side as he saw fit. I was not involved at all in the way MK financed the project. I only directed Henri Ohana, a French-Israeli financier, who was interested to be involved in my films, to contact MK.

The production guidelines were to be:
The film shooting would be set in Israel. I would be responsible for choosing the locations and the local management of the production. The main cast would be composed by British actors and the others by English speaking Israeli actors chosen by me and MK.

The main technical crew would be Israeli. The photographer, the sound men, and other necessary technicians would come from Great Britain.

As for the cast, I think that Leonard Whiting (Jacob), Rita Tushingham (Leah) and Robert Stevens (the storyteller) were my ideas. Mickey Rooney MK's idea and I went wholeheartedly for it. My companion, Michal Bat-Adam, the leading actress in my three previous Israeli films, was to play Rachel. MK knew her and liked her. He approved.

To avoid the desert cliché of the Biblical films, I had to reproduce a new visual conception more in accord to a vision of a ‘Land of milk and honey”. I needed virgin landscapes without agriculture, modern buildings, or electrical pylons (that would block the horizon in the long shots). Instead, I needed mountains, trees, running waters, and springs. I chose to look for them in the Golan Heights and Upper Galilee. We had to wait for the end of the Yom Kippour war, and the signed armistice and disengagement agreement with Syria (May 1974). Only then we could get from the Israeli army permission to film in the Golan Heights.

I met MK and the the South African investors at the 1974 Cannes film Festival where “Daughters, Daughters” was shown as part of the official selection. I think that “Gold” was already completed and MK was launching at Cannes “Shout at the Devil”. I didn’t know the scope of the South African investors involvement in Rachel’s Man and if any. RM was in full pre-production and the shooting was to start in the summer (August-September 1974).

Naturally, in part of the encounters with MK, Tony Klinger was present. But in the actual production, MK was personally totally involved. He followed every step of the pre and post production and was actually present on locations during the filming.

The production of 'Rachel's Man' (13, 14, 15, 16, 17)
The actual management of the shooting in Israel was in the hands of Israeli production managers. And so the art department. At that time, it was very difficult to find in those departments people with the kind of experience to manage the film I had in mind. The other difficulty was the nature of the locations. I chose to bring to the screen the vision I had in mind. They were difficult of access, far from roads and needed an important infrastructure to get to them. I remember MK saying jokingly not to let me get off the roads for shooting a scene. The heat of August at some locations was very taxing for the nerves of all of us. That’s probably why I used the term “nightmarish” to describe the shooting. But I also achieved, I think to reproduce the visuals I wanted and shoot the film as I wanted.

The editing and the sound post-production were done in London in 1974-1975. Dov Hoenig, who edited the film, had been working with me since the beginning of my director’s career. (He was later to become an important editor in Hollywood, working among others in Michael Mann’s films). MK was very much surprised when we screened the final cut of the film. I understood that this was was not the film he expected. But I also must say that he didn’t interfere at all with the result.

As I said before I kept to my position not to be involved in the way my films were promoted and distributed. MK informed of what was going on. I was not consulted and I didn’t express any comment. Obviously, I was disappointed by the way the film was received at its first screenings. I have accepted from the beginning of my career that some of my films will not be received as I would wish and that the fault would be mine.

The way the Israeli Cinema Center chose to support films at that time have been arbitrary and not always understandable. I don’t remember exactly what and why this happened.

I have not seen Rachel’s Man since 1975 and I don’t have neither a VHS or a DVD of it. I also rarely look back at my films. This helped me to survive as a filmmaker without rancor or self satisfaction. The film I directed after RM, was the very successful “Madame Rosa” ( the French film “La Vie Devant Soi”) who was to be my third nomination to the US Best Foreign film and win the 1977 Academy award.

But in retrospect, if I can try, after 35 years, to gather some thoughts about the film, I think that RM was too an usual film and perhaps ahead of its time. I also think that perhaps there were too many things in it, that each one of them, could, if developed, sustain a whole film. One, the poetic and romantic love story. Then, the mythological story that replaces the Bible narrative and baffled the audience. Finally, the unusual situation comedy that arrises from the tribulations of Jacob torn between his four women and the wiles of Laban. I also think, that despite the brilliant performances of the cast, the English language of the film and the different origins of the cast didn’t give to the film a unity to the dialogue.

I hope I have answered all the questions as clearly as I can.

Michal Bat-Adam who is very busy at this time will try to answer your questions in the next few days.

Specific Questions for Michal Bat-Adam

1) How did you conceive of the role of Rachel? What challenges did the character present?

2) How did the role relate to your earlier film roles?

3) Was it difficult to work with the international leads, Leonard Whiting, Rita Tushingham and Mickey Rooney?

4) What was your experience of the shoot? Was it also ‘nightmarish’? What were the most difficult moments?

5) Do you see RM as in some ways a feminist film?

Michal Bat-Adam Answers (20 October 2010)

1) Rachel’s role was very challenging. A Bible character known to everyone, that you learn about it in school, that a whole nation considers as the Big Mother and feeds from her like from your own mother’s milk, has in it something terribly impressive and thrilling. The challenge was how to transform this mythical and historical character into a flesh and blood woman like myself.

From the very beginning I tried to think about Rachel beyond the biblical myth, to adopt her inside me, as if she was me and I her, a woman in love at first sight, full of desire for Jacob, impatient to be united with him, and then suffers the terrible deception of seeing her sister sharing the bed of her beloved after being wed to him.How would I express this terrible pain on one side and how I could continue to relate to my sister Leah whom I love and understand her pain. And realize, that after having been bypassed by Jacob because of his love to her younger sister ,Leah achieves, after all, to have him for her all the same.

The challenge was also to avoid playing a bitter, resentful woman who wants so much to give a child to the man she loves so much. How to express the pain of being sterile, how to find inside herself the love and the strength to continue to want to live.

2) The role of Rachel had a similar motif in the part I played in “I Love You’ Rosa” in the sense that Rosa’s, as Rachel’s destinies evolve in an unexpected way. They must gather all their strength to face the complex emotional realites that they are confronted to.

3) I didn’t have difficulty to act with the international partners The were, all of them, marvelous in their work and outside the shooting. They created for me a very warm and comfortable environment for our mutual work. If there was a difficulty it was the English language and mainly the fact that I had to play Rachel in English, a thing I felt was not natural for me. Ask any actor or actress about playing a part not in his native tongue or even not in his native accent you’ll get a similar answer.

4) I don’t have any recollection of a “nightmarish” shooting. Though I remember that the shooting was sometime difficult. The reason is that I was very much concentrated in my role and I couldn’t see the enormous difficulties and responsibility laying on Moshe’s shoulders.

5) I think that every film that has at its central theme a story about a woman is by definition a feminist film. In the case of Rachel’Man’ even more so. A woman who has to struggle for her life, for what she wants, and knows that she’s been cheated and deprived of her natural rights. A film showing a woman who doesn’t renounce her femininity and her right to be a human being - is a feminist film as we understand it today.Michal Bat Adam

Appendix: Moshe Mizrahi's Filmography

“Laure” (1967)
A television mini-series (210 minutes) for French Television
Producer: TelFrance
Teleplay by: Rachel Fabian & Moshe Mizrahi
Starring: Marlene Jobert, Jean-Pierre Bernard

“The Traveller” (1969)
Original French title:
“Le Client de la morte saison”
Producer: Les films de La Licorne (Paris), Israfilm (Tel-Aviv)
Original screenplay: Rachel Fabian & Moshe Mizrahi
Starring: Claude Rich, Hans-Christian Blech
Official entry at the Berlin Film Festival
Award by the Senate of the City of Berlin

“Les Stances A Sophie” (1971)
Producer: Les films de La Licorne (Paris)
Screenplay: Christiane Rochefort & Moshe Mizrahi
Adapted from Christiane Rochefort’s novel
Starring: Bernadette Lafont, Michel Duchaussoy, Bulle Ogier
Best screenplay, Atlanta International Film Festival (1971)

“I Love You Rosa” (1972)
Original Hebrew title:
“Ani ohev otach, Rosa”
Producer: Noah Films (Tel-Aviv)
Original screenplay: Moshe Mizrahi & Rachel Fabian
Starring: Michal Bat-Adam
Israeli Awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress (1972)
Official Israeli Entry at the Cannes International Film Festival (1972)
Academy Award Nomination: Best Foreign Film (1972)

“The House On Chelouche Street” (1972)
Original Hebrew title:
“Habaït berehov chelouche”
Producer: Noah Films (Tel-Aviv)
Original Screenplay: Moshe Mizrahi, Yerah Gover
Starring: Gila Almagor, Michal Bat-Adam, Ofer Shalhin, Yossi Shiloah
Israeli Awards: Best Film, Best Actress (1973)
Academy Award Nomination: Best Foreign Film (1973)

“Daughters, Daughters” (1973)
Original Hebrew title:
“Abou El Banat”
Producer:Noah Films (Tel-Aviv)
Original Screenplay: Moshe Mizrahi & Shai Ophir
Starring Shai Ophir, Zahrira Harifai, Michal Bat-Adam, Yossi Shiloah
Official Israeli Entry at the Cannes International Film Festival (1974)

“Rachel’s Man” (1975)
Producer: Michael Klinger (London)
Original Screenplay: Moshe Mizrahi & Rachel Fabian
Starring: Michal Bat-Adam, Leonard Whiting, Rita Tushingham, Mickey Rooney

“Madame Rosa” (1977)
Original french title: “La Vie Devant Soi”
Producer: Lira Films (Paris)
Screenplay: Moshe Mizrahi. Adapted from the novel of Emile Ajar (Romain Gary)
Starring: Simone Signoret, Sami Ben-Youb, Claude Dauphin
Academy Award (Oscar): Best Foreign Film (1977)

“I Sent A Letter To My Love” (1979)
Original french title:
“Chère Inconnue”
Producer: Lise Fayolle, Giorgio Silvagni (Paris)
Screenplay: Moshe Mizrahi. Adapted from the novel by Bernice Rubens
Starring: Simone Signoret, Delphine Seyrig, Jean Rochefort“La Vie Continue” (1981)
Producer: Lise Fayolle, Giorgio Silvagni (Paris)
Original Screenplay: Moshe Mizrahi, Rachel Fabian
Starring: Annie Girardot, Jean-Pierre Cassel

“Une Jeunesse” (1982)
Producer: Jean-Claude Fleury (Paris)
Screenplay: Moshe Mizrahi & Patrick Modiano.
Adapted from the novel by Patrick Modiano
Starring: Ariane Larteguy, Jacques Dutronc, Charles Aznavour, Michael Lonsdale

“The Children’s War” (1984)
American title:
“War and Love”
Producer: Jack Eisner
Distributed by: Cannon Films
Screenplay: Abby Mann. Adapted from Jack Eisner’s: “The Survivor”
Starring: Kira Sedgwick, Sebastian Kenneas

“Every Time We Say Goodbye” (1986)
Producer: Jacob Kotzki & Sharon Harel
Distributed by: Tristar - Columbia
Original screenplay: Moshe Mizrahi, Rachel Fabian and Leah Appet.
Adapted from a story by: Moshe Mizrahi
Starring: Tom Hanks, Christina Marcillac, Avner Hizkiyahu

“Mangeclous” (1988)
Producer: Jacques Kirsner - Modfilms (Paris)
Screenplay: Moshe Mizrahi. Adapted from Albert Cohen’s novel: Mangeclous
Starring: Pierre Richard, Bernard Blier, Charles Aznavour, Jacques Villeret, Jean-Luc Bideau, Jacques Dufilho, Jean-Pierre Cassel

“Warburg, A Man Of Influence” (1991)
A three part - 90 minutes each- television mini-series
Producer: Jacques Kirsner - Modfilms (Paris)
Screenplay: Stephen Geller, Jacques Attali and Moshe Mizrahi;
Adapted from Jacques Attali’s: S. G. Warburg, A Man of Influence
Starring: Sam Waterston, Julian Glover, Dominique Sanda, Jean-Pierre Cassel

“Women” (1996)
Original Hebrew title
Producers: Michel Sharfstein, Amitan Manelzon - Movit (Tel-Aviv)
Screenplay: Moshe Mizrahi. From a story by: Yehouda Bourla
Starring: Michal Bat-dam, Amos Lavi, Ilor Harpaz

“Weekend In Galilee” (2007)
Original Hebrew title
“Sof shavua ba Galil”
Producers: Michal Bat-Adam and Moshe Mizrahi
Screenplay: Moshe Mizrahi. Inspired by Anton Chekhov “Oncle Vania”
Starring: Sharon Alexander, Hana Maron, Igal Sadeh, Shiri Guedani, Oded Teomi, Marina Shoef.