Actor Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in the new feature film “Golda,” directed by Guy Nattiv. Source: Screenshot.
Actor Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in the new feature film “Golda,” directed by Guy Nattiv. Source: Screenshot.
featureJewish & Israeli Culture

Israeli actors make ‘Golda’ film more grounded, authentic, says director Guy Nattiv

Born in Tel Aviv and now living in LA, he spoke with JNS about the film, which is somewhat of “a requiem” for former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir as a leader.

Tel Aviv-born film director Guy Nattiv came to global prominence in 2019 when he won the Academy Award for best live-action short film for “Skin,” about neo-Nazis, violence, skinheads and their tattoos. He is only the second Israeli to win an Academy Award.

His latest film takes on Golda Meir, who served as Israeli prime minister from 1969 to 1974. She died in Jerusalem on Dec. 8, 1978.

Helen Mirren plays Meir in the new film, which is set during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and which premieres in some U.S. theaters on Aug. 23 with its general release on Aug. 25. Nattiv, who lives in Los Angeles, talked with JNS about global reception of “Golda,” whether a non-Israeli could have made the film, Meir as an imperfect but admirable leader and his next film, co-written and co-directed with Iranian women. Responses have been lightly edited for style.

Q: “Golda” has already been released in Israel and in Berlin. What’s the early reaction been like here heading into the U.S. premiere?

A: It gets a very emotional wave of reactions from the Jewish community here. It’s been amazing. I’ve been to Atlanta, Boston, Washington, and I’m here in New York. It’s just all good so far.

Q: It’s been talked about ad nauseam—this argument over whether Helen Mirren, a non-Jew, should have been cast as Golda Meir—so we’re not going to ask about that. But let’s talk about the filmmaker. Could this movie have been made by a non-Israeli, or would it simply have not worked?

A: I don’t know; it’s an interesting question. I think that I brought authenticity to the table. The fact that I worked with Israeli actors made it more grounded, more authentic.

I think that doing an international movie, especially about the history of Israel, is something about which you need to be very careful. I wouldn’t do a film about the history of Serbia because it’s not my country. I don’t know anything about it.

I felt that it was good that it was handled by someone who is an Israeli, who lives in the States and knows both sides.

Q: What was it like working with this diverse cast?

A: Amazing. First of all, Golda was kind of a fish out of water because she was from Milwaukee [she was born in Kiev to Ukrainian Jewish parents and immigrated to the United States in 1906]. She wasn’t a sabra. So bringing all these Israeli actors surrounding a British actress was great. It felt like the right move.

It felt like we were from the same tribe. It felt really organic and beautiful.

Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir on March 1, 1973. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Q: This is not a complete biography of Golda Meir. We’re getting a glimpse into a narrow but very consequential 10-day window into her life during the Yom Kippur War. Was there a thought about branching out some sort of prologue or epilogue to expand her story rather than keeping it in the context of that war?

A: If you want to do a story from birth to death, or to extend a story like that, you cannot do it in an hour and a half. You need to have a mini-series, like “The Crown.”

It was so obvious that I and the entire team wanted a kind of magnifying glass into those 10 days of the war with her isolated in this concrete jungle.

It is a requiem for her as a leader. It says a lot about the situation she was in. I think we took a very pivotal situation for Golda—not only her collapse but that of the entire command room. For me, it was a great junction to focus on.

Q: You’ve said Meir was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. And yet, in your film, there seems to be admiration for her as a leader, at whom the buck stopped whatever the failures were. That’s a rarity nowadays in Israeli and U.S. politics. Did you balance out focusing on shortcomings while still showing her as an admirable leader, warts and all?

A: Absolutely. That’s what makes a character interesting in movies. An imperfect character. She’s flawed … and all those mistakes she had and the fact that she was a refusenik.

She didn’t want to speak to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Ashraf Marwan, the Egyptian spy, told her people that war will start soon. She said, “Oh, wolf, wolf.”

Even when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin made peace with Sadat and she saw it on her telly, she said: “Oh, these two need to get an Oscar for their performance.”

She was a skeptical woman. But when we think about this country, it’s 30 years after the Holocaust. You’re walking with a giant cloud over your head because you think you’re going to be decimated or deleted every given second. You can’t trust anyone. You probably needed in the end to take a right-wing leader like Menachem Begin outside of this milieu to believe someone like Sadat and make peace.

Film director Guy Nattiv at the premiere of Skin during the Montclair Film Festival 2019. Credit: Montclair Film via Wikimedia Commons.

Q: Skipping ahead, we would be remiss if we didn’t ask about your upcoming film “Tatami,” which is about judo. You co-directed it with an Iranian. An Israeli and an Iranian co-directing a movie. What was that like?

A: Oh, my God. A totally different world and experience.

So, I brought the story and wrote it with a woman named Elham Erfani, who is an Iranian lady. I invited Zar Ebrahimi, who won a Cannes award for best actress two years ago with her movie “Holy Spider.” I saw the film, and my jaw dropped. She was so, so good in it.

I wanted to tell a story about this Iranian judoka, who was going to win the gold in the world championship. After the third win, she gets a phone call from Iran telling her to abort the mission. “You’re not allowed to compete versus an Israeli.” She says, “No. I trained for three years for this moment. I’m taking the gold.”

They tell her, “OK. You’re going to pay the price back in Iran for your family for every fight.” Thinking about the authenticity we spoke about earlier, I said that I cannot tell the story alone. I need an Iranian female voice to do it with me.

That’s why I invited Elham and Zar to tell the story with me with Iranian actors whom they brought. It was very special. We shot it in Tbilisi, Georgia, in a very secret way, so no one from the Iranian regime would know about it. We will celebrate the first screening at the Venice Film Festival in September. It’s very emotional for us.

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