Natalie Portman directs Hebrew-speaking film

Natalie Portman directs Hebrew-speaking film


norman lebrecht

September 25, 2015

The Hollywood actor is in Israel for the Jerusalem premiere and general release of her debut film as director. In A Tale of Love and Darkness she brings to the screen the autobiography of Israeli writer Amos Oz.

Natalie, who also co-wrote the script, plays the role of Oz’s mother, Fania. Portman, who was raised by Hebrew-speaking parents in the US, says the book reflects much of her own family history.

natalie portman

The music is by Nicholas Britell. The film has been shown at Cannes and Toronto film festivals.


  • M_von_Kolinahr says:

    At the latest, Nat won my lasting attention and admiration with her unforgettably dedicated and intense performance as the feverishly conflicted ballerina in Darren Aronofsky’s film “Black Swan” (2010). That very dark tale was admittedly rather too strong for some to stomach, also with its terrific (in parts, slightly adapted) orchestral excerpts from the “Swan Lake” score – in this setting, almost a case of Tchaikovsky dressed up as Wagner (… well, maybe without all the silks!). The tale itself aside, though, I thought it was also a spectacular and rare recent example of bringing a number of highlights from a seminal classical work to a particularly wide audience of cinemagoers in a way that they were probably also able to accept almost unquestioningly – I doubt that many were even at all conscious of hearing “classical music” as such, so transfixed would they have been by the unfolding (unravelling??), musically highly charged psychodrama presented on screen. Accordingly, I’ll look forward to this latest project of hers when it comes into general release, as she’s clearly a very intelligent and talented artist indeed. The trailer itself is most intriguing, it looks like a very original film, with its Hebrew dialogue, and, as with “Black Swan”, Nat’s acting seems similarly highly intense and affecting here, and it’s similarly beautifully filmed. Sounds like a reasonable score too. Thank you for the post!

  • CDH says:

    No mystery whom she has to tweet to get a review around here.

    She is a talented and intelligent artist, undoubtedly, but so are many others. She seems to generate more interest here than many, however. And as for Black Swan, it probably put a generation off ballet for life. Horrible film.

    • M_von_Kolinahr says:

      Yes, indeed there are a lot of other talented artists around, and for my part, in principle, I’d always want to lend them my support too! This column aside, just for me personally, Ms Portman still stands out as a very bright spark – she’s a highly intelligent A-lister, for sure (also boasting proficiency in multiple languages), and I think she has an especially lovely, magnetic screen presence. I wish her all the very best in her future endeavours.

      As for the “horrible ballet film” – I’d more than sympathise with anyone who didn’t like it, it’s most decidedly not for all tastes. The world of ballet as portrayed in “Black Swan” doesn’t exactly bear closer scrutiny either, but that was never really its agenda in the first place; among others, its true antecedents include thrillers like Polanski’s “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, and I think it’s best taken as a kind of very dark fable or fantasy, for better or worse also playing up well-established ballet archetypes/stereotypes. Up to a point, though, even the classic “The Red Shoes” (for many, no doubt still the better film) was a bit like that as well, with its own increasingly conflicted central character and a truly shocking sudden ending. Either way, there were actually a number of reports of increased ballet attendances in the wake of “Black Swan”, e.g. Elizabeth Wistrich, artistic director of City Ballet in San Diego at the time: “I’ve talked to friends whose husbands would say, ‘I don’t want to see a movie about ballet.’ Then they see this is a thriller. Now they’re interested in seeing our ‘Swan Lake.'” And at a Q&A session following a matinee ballet performance I went to a couple of years ago, I seem to recall the prominent American principal dancer Gillian Murphy fielding questions from a number of young enthusiasts in the audience regarding her impressions of the film. Coming from a professional dancer, those impressions were understandably mixed, but she did also acknowledge the aura it was trying to achieve. Anyway, the film is a very, very guilty pleasure, to be sure, and so I think it’s quite justifiable to want to put a big question mark over it, at the least… but whatever its shortcomings, its power as an especially bravura piece of filmmaking is remains undeniable – with Natalie’s central performance absolutely crucial to its impact.

      • CDH says:

        A thoughtful and articulate response. I still wonder about general interest level in dance after the film — a spike for Swan Lake alone tends to line up with the argument that people who are in the ENO for ALW are unlikely to be back for real opera. But of course as you point out, that was never the point of the movie. My point –speculative, of course — was that it would have tended to put people off. General sinking dance attendance figures cannot, of course, be attributed to the film!

        As I said, no argument on Ms. Portman. But this is not the first account of her doings around here. We never hear mention of the philanthropic Ms. Jolie, also an actress of some calibre, or of the multi-awarded Ms. Streep, who can seemingly do anything. Can our Norman have a little crush? Other exciting films from Toronto and Cannes have gone unremarked over the years.

  • M_von_Kolinahr says:

    Thank you, CDH – yes, I think you’re probably right, and many people who went to the ballet for the first time after seeing “Black Swan” might never have gone at all otherwise, and so I expect by no means all of them would have necessarily maintained their interest – though no doubt some would have done, and hopefully gone on to enjoy other works as well. I’ve read in another article that the American principal dancer Gillian Murphy, whom I mentioned above (and who was actually also a ballet consultant for the film), danced Odile/Odette in “Swan Lake” at Lincoln Center in the summer after the film’s release, and the attendance figures were reportedly higher than they’d been in years, with all eyes especially glued to her when she made her appearance as Odile in Act II. But here in New Zealand too – where Ms Murphy also dances – attendances at recent productions of the Royal NZ Ballet (which enjoys a very good standing among the general public) have also been exceptionally high these last few years, including their very successful 2012 production of “Giselle” (with Ms Murphy in the title role) which was even filmed for the cinema and DVD, and with their 2013 revival of “Swan Lake” then breaking all local box-office records for ballet outright.

    Meanwhile, regarding the other very gifted actresses you mentioned vis-à-vis the multi-talented Ms. Portman – maybe Meryl Streep will get a good write-up in these columns when Stephen Frears’ upcoming film about the “legendary” amateur operatic soprano and rich New York heiress Florence Foster Jenkins is eventually completed and released! As you say, Ms Streep can seemingly do just about anything, so assuming the film is well made, it could really be something to look forward to. 🙂