Natalie Portman: Evoking "Slavic Melancholy" in A Tale of Love and Darkness

Nataly Portman2Adapting Amos Oz's best selling book, A Tale of Love and Darkness, Natalie Portman, who also directed and starred in this Hebrew language film, created a deeply moving poetic movie, resonant of the immigrant experience. Told from the point of view of a boy named Amos, the story is Amos Oz' imagined story of his mother's suicide at age 38, after a life of dislocation and disappointed dreams. Leaving Eastern Europe after everyone she ever knew was murdered, living in British occupied Palestine, a place of perpetual violence, daily life overcame Fania's romantic dreams for the new land, even after marrying and having a son. And even after the State of Israel was declared by the UN. Oz thought he was telling a story that would be read by citizens in a tiny corner of Jerusalem, and was astonished that his book became a worldwide hit. The story resonated with Portman who was born in Israel to a family that had a parallel history of leaving the horrors of genocide.

When Portman began to develop this feature, she was too young to play Fania. She aged into the role. An actor from an early age, her first feature was The Professional (1994), opposite Jean Reno. At A Tale of Love and Darkness premiere at the Crosby Street Hotel, with Joel Grey, Molly Ringwald, Oren Moverman, and Dani Dayan among those attending, I asked her whether her experience as a young teen actor helped in her directing Amir Tessler, an impressive Amos in this film. Yes, she said, "I made it fun, as others did for me." A bigger challenge was editing in Nicholas Britell's lush music for utmost emotional impact. Friday's opening at the Sunshine Theater should be fun too, with a reception at the Jewish knishery, Yonah Schimmel's.

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