TEL AVIV — Natalie Portman, who is currently in Jerusalem to film her directorial debut, was the subject of a series of protests by the city’s ultra-Orthodox community on Tuesday.
Portman, who was born in Jerusalem and speaks fluent Hebrew, is directing and starring in “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” an adaptation of legendary Israeli author Amos Oz’s autobiographical novel about coming of age in the city in the 1940s. The film, bolstered by support from both the Jerusalem Film Fund and the city municipality, began lensing this week at locations across the city, but ahead of scheduled filming in a religious neighborhood of the city’s Nahlaot district on Wednesday, ultra-Orthodox residents lashed out, declaring the film – and its director – immodest.
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, who comprise about 10 percent of the population, shun most media and television, adhere to strict modest dress, and insist on strict gender segregation.
The Israeli press reported incidents of graffiti decrying a “foreign invasion” in the neighborhood, and Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria told Israel’s Channel 10 that she had received a heated letter decrying the presence of film crews near synagogues and yeshivas – institutes of religious study.
“The film shooting is set to take place on several sensitive streets close to synagogues and yeshivas, and the scenes being filmed should have been examined first to make sure they don’t offend anybody’s sensitivities,” the letter read. The foreign media also received word that protests could occur during filming.
In Jerusalem, even city politics are complicated. The office of Mayor Nir Barkat, who has personally visited Portman on set and has been one of the film’s most vocal supporters, insisted on Tuesday that they had no knowledge of any unrest or letters from the ultra-Orthodox community.
“I have not received any letter of complaint, nor did the mayor’s office,” said Brachie Sprung, Barkat’s adviser for foreign affairs and international media. “I spoke to the film crew today, and they also said that nothing has happened. There has not been one protest, and the municipality is working closely with the residents to inform them of any and all disruption of their day to day activity.”