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‘Song of Songs’ Director Eva Neymann on Re-creating the World of Russian Jewish Shtetls

After winning Karlovy Vary Film Festival’s East of the West competition with “House With a Turret” in 2012, Ukrainian helmer-writer Eva Neymann world preems her third feature “Song of Songs” in the main event. Exquisitely lensed and beautifully stylized, it uses the stories of Sholem Aleichem to create the now-extinct world of Russian Jewish shtetls.

Previously a documaker, Neymann turned to fiction with adaptations of two works by Friedrich Gorenstein. Why Sholem Aleichem? Neymann says: “’Song of Songs’ to me was a treasure in which simplicity and fragility are the strongholds. Here you have real beauty, the deepness that allows one to soar high… The novel is very special and stands out from his other works, [but] in fact, in the film I have used directly and indirectly fragments from across the whole of Sholem Aleichem’s collected works.”

Neymann works again with talented d.p. Rimvydas Leipus, of whom she says, “I wish to keep working with him until retirement us do part.” 
Together they create images of mesmerizing beauty. She notes: “We mainly tried to create our own world, inspired by observation of daily life, memories, impressions and dreams.”

There are many striking musical tracks in the film, and all come from artists of Jewish origins, such as Al Jolson, Yossele Rosenblatt, Josef Hassid, Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Kreisler. Neymann says: “This period in the realm of music, when these great musicians were active, had a special and wonderful spirit. The music you hear in the film is the most important source of inspiration for me and I hope its unique spirit touched the film.”

The main characters appear as youngsters of 9 and 10, and then as young adults. How did she find young actors that matched the older professionals so well? “I was lucky to work with the excellent casting assistance of Zinaida Mamontova,” Neymann recounts. “She traveled across half of the Ukraine in order to find the small Shimek and Buzya.”

What’s next? Neymann answers coyly, “I am working on rather thrilling matters, but as I am superstitious I’d prefer to keep it a secret for the moment.”

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