The female characters in Keren Yedaya’s films are never easy to watch. The Israeli helmer’s first feature, 2004’s “Or” (My Treasure), focused on the women of Israel’s fringes, where poverty, misogyny and familial obligation all too often create a toxic trifecta of dead ends. She followed up that pic, which earned five awards at Cannes, with 2009’s “Jaffa,” a similarly disquieting study of Israeli dysfunction fueled by racism and sexism.
Yedaya is pushing boundaries again in her return to Cannes this year with Un Certain Regard screener “A Lovely Girl,” the story of a survivor of routine incest for whom romance and abuse become irreparably braided together. Pic is the result of years of research and political activism on Yedaya’s part, and while she admits it may not be easy to watch, she hopes audiences will have the courage to not look away.
Variety: The film gives us a father who has been raping his daughter for 20 years, and now she is grown and they live together as a couple. What is their relationship?
Keren Yedaya: Of course he is raping her, of course it’s incest, but you also see how much she is in love with him, and how she is addicted to him. For a minute, her life looks normal to us, and then slowly you come to see how sick and violent it is.
Variety: Your films are never light. Is this one darker than usual?
Keren: If you compare them, this one makes “Or” look like a comedy. Here, it’s not easy to understand or love the female character. I demand more from my audience, and it’s more subversive.
Variety: How do you separate your life from your films?
Keren: I don’t. I cry all the time because the world is so cruel. I don’t separate them, and that’s a conscious decision — not to live my nice life with my husband and two lovely children, and just forget about everything else.
Variety: As a female director, has the industry become more welcoming since you started making films?
Keren: It’s a bit easier. But it’s still not there. I don’t find myself in a lot of male directors’ films. I can appreciate their amazing work but I need more female characters for me to identify with.