How One Filmmaker Explores Human Emotion and Conflict Through Short Films

Dekel Berenson, an Israeli filmmaker living in London, is working on an anthology feature film consisting of three segments. The three parts are stand-alone short films, each 25-35 minutes long, all sharing the same underlining themes and style. The trilogy explores the subjects of love, relationships and sex. The first segment, The Girls Were Doing Nothing, is due to hit the festival circuit in early 2017.

What is your film about?

If I need to bring it down to one neat paragraph, The Girls Were Doing Nothing is about the conflicting nature of love, desire and the human soul - our basic needs for stability, comfort and certainty which clash with equally strong desires for novelty, variety and freedom. It touches on the subjects of breaking free from one's routine, sexual desires, self knowledge and more. It's about all sorts of things and I think that every person will understand it differently, depending on where they are on their own journey.

Why this story?

The majority of what's going on in our heads is unconscious. The forces that move people - their behaviors, their decisions, their relationships - always have to do with underground and invisible currents that we do not see and often do not understand. We've made so much progress in technology and science but so little headway in figuring out ourselves. And I think that it's important to ask questions that will bring us closer to understanding why we do what we do, the times we live in, our culture and society. And I'm only interested in writing stories that will bring me and anyone watching my films closer to answering these question.

How do you accomplish that in film?

By creating a situation that will raise a question or manifest a problem in the character's lives. Then we follow their choices in facing and solving these situations in a meaningful way, one that will shed light on the human condition, no matter who you are or where you live. The more distinct and particular the story is, the more universal it becomes, because then it's easier to recognize it's truth.

The bigger aim of course is to make the audience recognize the same story in their own lives. We all live in a story that we tell ourselves and constantly face challenges that we keep solving, only to encounter bigger and better challenges. Think about what sorts of issues you faced ten years ago compared to the issues you deal with today. If the problems are the same - you haven't made progress, you haven't evolved.

So the final goal would be to solve our every day difficulties?

No, that's impossible, every time you solve one problem you are faced with another one.

Why is that?

When you overcome one of life's challenges it will expose another, perhaps a better and more meaningful one. The quality of challenges keep getting better and better, but it never ends, until you come to the realization that that's simply our nature. When we balance one aspect of life, another will fall out of balance.

Do you have an example?

Let's say you don't want to spend your life working 9 to 5 and aim to retire early. Somehow you managed to do that and suddenly you're left with all the free time in the world. So now you have a new challenge - what to do with all this free time.

What was your biggest mistake in making your film?

My biggest mistake, by far, was not finding a competent producer to work with from the very first day. I hired producers who failed me and I had to let them go and so I ended up producing the film on my own. Only about three days before shooting I found an excellent Production Manager and was able to let go of the logistics, but up until that moment I was doing everything myself.

What's the hardest part in making a film?

The hardest part is knowing how much to give and how much to hold back. On one side of the spectrum you have total cliché, on-the-nose story acting or camerawork, or too obvious or over-simplistic ideas, meanings or symbols, and a happy ending. On the other side, you have ambiguity and withholding of story elements, vague meaning, and nihilism.

A scene should never be about what the scene is about. It must be about one thing but mean something else. A couple is looking at a shopping window and calmly discussing furniture would actually be a scene about their marriage falling apart. Also, I don't like to use close-ups because that's like telling the audience exactly where to look.
But I don't want the audience to leave my film confused either. So I leave enough clues in the story itself or with visual metaphors, repetition of certain elements, with music or some other way. Some filmmakers use voice-overs which is of course the lazy way to do it. Directors who leave their audiences confused are either condescending towards the audience or aren't sure about the meaning of their story themselves.

Hollywood type of happy endings repulse me because in real life nothing ends neatly. It reminds me of the closing scene of Sideways, one of my favourite films. Miles meets his ex-wife who recently remarried and is pregnant. He tells her that it seems like everybody is getting married and that last year it was all divorces, and that it must be cyclical. And of course, he's right.

So coming back to your question - finding that sweet-spot between cliché and abstract expressionism - that's the hardest part in filmmaking. But then again, of course, the highest form of art is one that is both abstract and full of meaning. Then you get people writing 300 page books about a film like Mulholland Drive. That's the sort of film that deserves not an Oscar, but a Nobel Prize. If Bob Dylan got one, then why not a filmmaker?