In the opening minutes of Israeli filmmaker Savi Gavizon’s “Longing,” middle-aged bachelor Ariel Bloch gets news that’s not only shocking, it’s a double-punch to the gut. Meeting his ex-girlfriend Ronit at a café, he’s told that he fathered a son 20 years ago. Then he learns that the boy, Adam, is now dead, killed when his car plunged off a bridge. Reeling from the news, he begins a quest to learn more about the young man he never had the chance to meet.
The answers he gets are complicated: Adam was a talented musician and poet, but he was also angry and troubled, with a history of defacing property, dealing drugs, stalking his French teacher, and getting his 15-year-old girlfriend pregnant. How Ariel deals with and processes these revelations as he meets people in Adam’s life and learns about himself in the process is at the core of Gavizon’s dark comedy.
Starring Shai Avivi as Ariel, Assi Levy as Ronit, and Neta Riskin as French teacher Yael, “Longing” was nominated for 13 Ophir Awards—Israel’s Oscar —with Gavizon’s script winning the award for best screenplay.
“This is a story about parenthood, about the desire to be a parent and the afflictions that come with it: identification and honor,” he told the Journal. “This is a journey that creates near-laboratory conditions for the examination of the hidden aspects of parenthood.”
The divorced father of two children, Maya, 25, and Yoav, 20, the Tel Aviv-based writer-director of “Nina’s Tragedies” and “Lovesick on Nana Street” explained his inspiration for his latest film.
“A few years ago, when I got divorced, my kids became the anchor in my life. I developed an obsession to be with them as much as I could. On their days with me, I didn’t allow them to go to their friends and surely not to sleep over. They had to stay with me. Instead of being a good father to them, I was a good father for me,” he said. “Issues of awkward parenthood began to bother me and these issues looked for their story to be told. These issues, I think, resonate in the heart of every parent.”
Bringing the story to the screen posed several challenges. “The essence of the story is the journey of the main character from cold to hot and from loneliness to being surrounded by people, from thinking about himself to [recognizing] others. So I had to design him as a very cold, selfish and lonely person.” It is a very hard step to begin with, he explained, so it was important that he cast the right actor. He chose Shai Avivi because of “his talent, warmth, gentleness and lovable quality that makes people relate to him, even as a difficult to like character.”
“Longing” artfully treads the line between darkness and light, deftly blending comedy and tragedy. “I’ve always wanted to create a film which is comprised of absurd situations, because they allow access to deep emotions without falling into the trap of sentimentality and cliché,” Gavizon said. “Perhaps this is why I’ve allowed myself, for the very first time, to be led to the very end by a singular pain and a singular passion. ‘Longing’ is a tragicomedy, paved with more absurdity than any other screenplay I’ve written to date.”
As a director, he said the most significant challenge he faced was directing this film in an entirely realistic fashion, in order to provide “a solid emotional platform for those moments that touch on the extreme and the ridiculous.” He explained that classic comic drama usually starts funny, and gradually becomes serious and painful, but in this case, “I chose to do it in the other way around. The movie starts very sad, and becomes more and more absurd and comic. ‘An Extremely Sad Comedy’ is probably a title that suits ‘Longing’ better than any of my other films.”
While the the story he tells is very extreme and charts a dangerous path, Gavizon and his cinematographer, Assaf Sudry, kept the film’s visuals modest and functional. “But if you look carefully,” he said, “you can see the manipulation we made with color and light. It was very important for me not to leave the texture of the things as they are. It’s not really realistic texture. Assaf was the perfect guy to do it.”
Although Gavizon did not base any of the film on real people, he was inspired to include a real Taoist ceremony his girlfriend told him about after returning from a trip to Singapore. “When a son dies, [Taoists] try to find for him a girl who also died, and they marry them in a ceremony. They believe that this marriage will [allow] them to be together, wherever they are,” he said.
“I thought that it might be interesting and unique to create a story with these circumstances, [set] in a Western society. But what interested me more about this marriage was the parents; I was attracted to their psychological need to continue being parents and less in the mystic and metaphysical side,” he said. “I think this ceremony goes one step deeper and darker than the Jewish way that I know to mourn and deal with death.”
The Haifa native, who is not religious, said he does “study Judaism from time to time, and I have religious people in my family. I’m surrounded by Jewish culture and tradition. I have no doubt that these facts directly and indirectly affect my work.” Right now, he added, “I’m busy wondering what my next film will be about.”