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Venice Film Festival: Director Amos Gitai’s Golden Years

After his retro at Venice last year, helmer is back with his most ambitious project

Israeli director Amos Gitai has accomplished many personal goals in his four-decade career, and with his new pic, “Ana Arabia,” which was shot entirely in one take and will compete for the Golden Lion at Venice, he has reached another.

The 62-year-old helmer is one of Israel’s most controversial, often dividing audiences with his films. He is also one of the most prominent figures on the nation’s movie scene, known both for his hyper-raw depictions of war like “Kippur” (2000) and “Kedma” (2001), as well as his cross-over ability to cast high-profile stars, including Natalie Portman in “Free Zone” (2005) and Juliette Binoche in “Disengagement” (2007).

Last year, Gitai was honored at Venice with a retrospective of his career, which began when he shot snippets of ground fighting from a helicopter while serving in the Israel Defense Forces during this country’s 1973 Yom Kippur War. Last year he also unveiled “Lullaby to my Father,” which tells the life story of Gitai’s architect father Munio Weinraub and is toplined by Yael Abecassis, star of “Hatufim,” the Israeli predecessor to “Homeland.”

This year, Gitai returns to the Palazzo del Cinema with a much less personal, but far more ambitious project. “Ana Arabia” is an 81-minute treatise into life in the borderlands of south Tel Aviv, where a handful of society’s rejects, both Jewish and Arab, struggle with their own humanity. Gitai knew he was taking a risk filming in a single shot, he says, but he felt there was no other way to tell his story.

“I wanted to relate to the serial memory of both Jews and Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis,” he says via phone from France, where the Haifa-born director often works. “Relating doesn’t mean using the convention of montage and editing … you are saying that these relationships cannot be canned relationships.”

Pic was lensed by Giora Bejach and stars Yuval Scharf, Israeli-Arab TV star Yussuf Abu-Warda and French-Israeli actress Sarah Adler. Gitai’s inspiration for the story came from a handful of stories, one of which concerns a Jewish Holocaust survivor who married a Muslim man and now lives in the Israeli-Arab village of Umm el-Fahm.

“It’s about pieces of memories and the contradiction between intimate relations and public relations, national conflicts, personal conflicts, and personal love affairs. All of this is in the film,” Gitai says. “This is part of society here. And we are still in the Middle East, where it’s all boiling temperatures and so volcanic. It’s exploding all over the place, and it’s good to remind ourselves that we can also simply co-exist, we can also simply find ways to talk to each other.”

Committed to forcing a crack in the walls of prejudice and hostility that envelop this region, Gitai also drew upon some of his previous documentary work, specifically his “Wadi” trilogy (1981’s “Wadi,” 1991’s “Wadi, Ten Years After” and 2001’s “Wadi Grand Canyon 2001”), which lays bare the biographies of the Jews and Arabs living together in northern Israel.

For “Ana Arabia,” he did 10 takes, with only the final take making the cut. All filming was done between 4 and 5:30 p.m. to also track the movement of natural light. And while the decision to film in a single sequence was a personal goal, Gitai says, it also projects a message.

“The continuous shot and its rhythm envelop the fragments of these figures,” he explains in a text on the film. “It’s also somewhat of a political statement, commenting that the destines of Jews and Arabs on this land will not be cut, will not be separated. They are interwoven and they have to find ways … to coexist.”

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