Would you talk about your process of improvisation with the actors? Do you rehearse with them? We don’t rehearse at all. We find everything on the spot, on location. But during pre-production, I meet with the actors and we discuss the motives of the characters. I help each actor develop their character's storyline. And then when on set and in character, the actors clash. They are in conflict because each character has a different version of the same story. The combination of all the characters’ differing subjectivities creates some kind of deeper truth.
…Many things happened on the set which were very specific to Israeli society: For example, another one of the actors is very secular and, for the film, they met a rabbi for the first time after having not met one for ten years. Also, Michael Moshonov [who plays the eldest son] and Limor Goldstein [who plays the mother] are both from Tel Aviv and I took them to Jerusalem which they don’t go to often…So, when making the film, they were even exploring their own society in a way. That’s fascinating for me because it refreshes the film’s gaze.
At Cannes, you said with reference to one of the themes in Tehilim that "no one has a monopoly on the truth; truth is something people find together". That’s an interesting comment because I find that, with the absence of the father, the authority figure disappears. To me at least, the film suggests that this disappearance creates the opportunity for a greater sense of interdependence among the mother and sons. I never thought of it that way but that’s very interesting. Let’s say by removing the father, it’s like you remove God and suddenly everybody is equal, as you said. Okay so now, once God is away, the world stops to exist, as every religion is based around the return or the comeback of hope: If you behave well, hope will be back; if you don’t behave well, then you will wait longer. But that’s not reality. The reality is that God is not necessarily something you experience as a central figure. It’s maybe something that you share with others, it’s the way you perceive others, it’s the way you can listen [to] others. That’s what we found during the film. (I didn’t think of my films as being some sort of huge metaphor but as we were working on this film, the more we discovered so many elements of this amazing symbolic metaphor.) What I’m saying is that once you remove this [God-like] central figure, one can experience true life. You no longer have anyone to protect you, you don’t have anyone who can say what direction to take or anyone who can balance the situation. The father in the film was probably someone who balanced the dynamics between his father, his wife and his children; he was someone within the family who provided a balance between modernity and tradition. But once he’s not there anymore, the rest of the family can’t help each other because they never really listened to each other—only the father was listening (maybe that’s why he left because it was impossible to listen anymore). When the father disappears, something very interesting and traceable happens. It creates a great vacuum and forces the characters to think.
In the beginning, there’s no real connection between the sons and the mother, but perhaps by the end, they realize the need to rely on each other more. In the film, the rabbi doesn’t make a mistake when he says that [the father’s absence] is an opportunity for the family to be together, to find something to share…[I don’t think there’s hope in] some kind of illusion where there’s something above us in which we have to believe. Rather something must be done between humans, between people.