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Natalie Portman’s Directorial Debut at Cannes

It’s been wall to wall Natalie Portman this week. After being mostly out of the spotlight after her Oscar for Black Swan in 2011, she is suddenly everywhere. Portman is set to be the latest actress to portray Jackie Kennedy in a film directed by Pablo Larraín. The film was originally conceived as a project for Black Swan Director Darren Aronofsky and his then wife Rachel Weisz. Their divorce put the kibosh on the project and so the producers approached Portman, possibly in the hopes of attracting Aronofsky back. That didn’t work, maybe because, you know, it’s complicated. But Portman stayed on and the project is a go. But that’s not all. Portman is also set to star in Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups and Weightless. And in this fall’s Jane Got a Gun. And in Planetarium opposite Lilly Rose Depp – the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis. And in the the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex as the notorious RBG. And as the rumored lead in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (great movie) follow-up.

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman acting and directing in Nachlaot

But that’s not all. Portman recently screened her Directorial debut (shot partly in Nachlaot and Jerusalem) at Cannes. The movie, A Tale of Love and Darkness is an adaptation of the Amos Oz memoir and international best seller of the same name. Vanity Fair describes the film’s plot as follows:

Portman plays Oz’s mother, Fania, a refugee from the Eastern European village of Rovno. Over the years Rovno has been considered part of Lithuania, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Ukraine. This instability is something Fania brings with her to Jerusalem, where she marries a marginally successful scholar and raises a small, observant boy. Our story begins after the the second World War, but before Israel’s independence from the British Mandate. And right up until the United Nations announces its partition plan for the region, leading to military action between Arabs and Jews, she’s able to keep her family together. Once there is, after thousands of years of exile, a Zionist return, she’s finally free to fall apart.

Portman gets credit for not only directing and starring in this movie but she also wrote the screenplay. Which is in Hebrew. Portman was born in Israel but left with her family to the US when she was 3. This is all so very impressive! Sadly, her reviews were mixed.

Vanity Fair’s reviewer opined:

More than politics or ethnic struggle, this is a movie about one woman’s depression, from the point of view of a little boy. It makes for some poetic lines (and the narration is nice), but it can lead to dull cinema. There’s a lot of Natalie Portman looking sad in chairs in this movie… An intimate drama like this requires a director with a light touch, but Portman is perhaps a little too light. There’s not much in the way of visual representation concerning the immigrants’ troubled background. There’s an occasional flash suggesting lost or secret loves, perhaps just enough that a boy can intuit, but it gets increasingly difficult to get inside our main character’s head. The film does have a nice look and sharp costumes, and Portman’s got a knack for knowing where to place the camera. There are a few child P.O.V. shots that have me eager to see her stay on the directing track, which she will hopefully do if A Tale of Love and Darkness finds its audience.

Vogue wrote:

When actors start directing, anything is possible. They can turn out to be terrific at it—Clint Eastwood is probably the gold standard here—but they can also make pretentious messes like the one by Ryan Gosling that all of us in Cannes lined up to see last year… It turns out that Portman’s work falls between those two extremes. While the film doesn’t soar, it’s an honorable labor of love that’s surely one of the most unusual features ever made by an Oscar-winning Hollywood actress… Now, Oz is a very talented writer and A Tale of Love and Darkness is filled with memorable bits that Portman, who was born in Israel, brings to the screen with great commitment and fidelity. There’s very little of the vainglory that afflicts many male actors when they sit in the director’s chair—she’s too smart to pretend to be a genius. And as Fania, Portman reminds us how good she can be. It made me look forward to seeing her play Jackie.

As reported by the Associated Press, Robbie Collin of Britain’s Daily Telegraph tweeted that the film was earnest but “completely respectable,” while Variety’s Peter Debruge said the “drearily empathetic film lacks whatever universality has made (the book) such an international phenomenon.” Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn gave it a “C” in a review that gave no quarter to Portman’s Directorial debut, calling the movie “bland” but “earnest.”

But whatever, making this movie was a ballsy move, one that only adds to the accomplishments of an already very accomplished individual. I for one look forward to seeing it and I hope you will too.

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Publisher at Jewlicious
Founder of Jewlicious? Publisher? Man I hate titles. I coined the name Jewlicious and I slave over the site. I live in Jerusalem and I need to get some breakfast.
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