Richard Gere’s ‘Norman’ Sends Director Joseph Cedar to Top of Israel’s Biz List

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Joseph Cedar, the New York-born, Israel-raised golden boy of the cinema of the modern Jewish State, bursts firmly onto the international scene this festival season with “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,” his new Richard Gere-toplined feature.

The film has its international premiere in Toronto on Sept. 12 as a Gala Presentation afters is world preem at the recent Telluride Film Festival.

It’s the first English-language film for the Israeli writer and helmer, and his first time working with international star power after decades directing Israel’s biggest names. Pic, set in both Jerusalem and New York, created a flurry of excitement and media headlines last year when its production set up shop in the nation’s capital.

Cedar has sat atop the Israeli cinematic pack since the release of his stirring 2007 “Beaufort,” the Oscar-nominated drama about an Israeli Defense Force unit stationed upon a remote mountaintop during this country’s conflict with south Lebanon. Four years later, he further raised the bar with “Footnote,” an Only-in-Jerusalem spin on a classic family competition story, probing the disturbing rivalry between a pair of father and son Talmudic scholars at Israel’s Hebrew University.

“Footnote” earned Cedar a second Oscar nod and secured his position as one of the great Israeli filmmakers of his generation. But with “Norman,” which was snapped up by Sony Pictures Classics earlier this month, he has, in the eyes of Israelis, truly made his country proud.

“Israeli cinema continues to flourish at the most important festivals in North America,” gushed a headline in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot in describing the Telluride bow of both Cedar’s film and “Through the Wall,” the sophomore effort of Orthodox helmer Rama Burshtein.

Meanwhile Mako, a popular Web portal here, made sure to note while covering the Sony Pictures deal that Cedar had earned a sum “unprecedented” for Israeli filmmakers.

The hype began back in March 2015, when Gere, who plays a blustering New York hustler named Norman Oppenheimer tangled in a Ponzi-like scheme with Israel’s future prime minister, arrived in Jerusalem for filming.

“Women of Israel, brace yourself — Richard Gere is coming,” headlines said. In the film sections across the Israeli press, Cedar was declared “The Israeli director who managed to land Richard Gere.”

The English-language Jerusalem post went as far as laying out the plush details of Gere’s hotel suite (the 22nd floor of Jerusalem Leonardo hotel), his requested tea flavors (green, as well as fresh sage and mint), and even his snacks of choice (pecans, organic fruit).

In that same story, the Jerusalem Post explained the reason behind the hype — Gere, for the first time, was a Hollywood star working with Israeli talent despite not being Jewish, and having no earlier ties to Israel.

“Gere’s presence here may herald an important change in Israel’s ability to lure top star to appear in major films,” the article read. “For the past 15 years, no A-list actor has worked in Israel on a major production, except the Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, who directed and starred in her adaptation of Amos Oz’s ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ in 2014. But while Portman is certainly a star, and had acted in Israel before … the fact that she was born in Jerusalem and is a dual Israeli-American citizen makes her willingness to work here a bit less dramatic.”

“Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” also stars Steve Buscemi, Michael Sheen, and Charlotte Gainsbourg alongside Israeli veteran star Lior Ashkenazi.