Eran Riklis (“Lemon Tree,” “Dancing Arabs”) is developing a new feature that he hopes will strike a chord at this week’s MIA Market in Rome, where the acclaimed Israeli director will be pitching it to potential partners.
“Last Chord in Thessaloniki” follows a family of jazz musicians who are forced to confront their dysfunctions while traveling together to perform in Greece’s second city, where the family’s roots, though buried deep in the past, upend the present and cast a dark shadow over the future. Setting off on a journey from Tel Aviv to Thessaloniki, they are waylaid and sidetracked along the way – offering an opportunity, however, for them to arrive at an unexpected destination.
“Sometimes you have to travel really far in order to rediscover yourself,” Riklis explained. “The distance is possibly quite short. It’s actually traveling somewhere between your mind and your heart. The fact that you’re out there almost forces you not to evade the bigger questions, and not to confront the issues that you’re surrounded with.”
Riklis is producing through his Tel Aviv-based shingle Eran Riklis Productions and directing off a script written by Zadok Zemach.
At the heart of “Last Chord” is the family’s patriarch, Avram, the troubled son of Holocaust survivors who fled Greece during the Second World War to settle in Israel, where he eventually became a jazz musician.
“Avram grew up with the burden of his parents’ experience in the Holocaust in Greece, growing up in a country, Israel, as an immigrant and somebody who has to find his place,” Riklis said. “Playing the saxophone and reaching out into jazz saved him, because it gave him something very specific to both master and then control, and yet it gave him a certain freedom.”
Yet his career – and his life – didn’t pan out quite the way he planned. “Here he is in his early 70s, possibly a failure in his own eyes, and possibly with a last chord, a last chance to redeem himself and do good by the people that he’s maybe not trying hard enough to show that he cares,” the director said. “It is [a story about] the individual, but it is about expressing love and getting love in return.”
To do that, the family must hit the road, offering Riklis an opportunity to tap into one of cinema’s most beloved genres. “We all grew up at a certain point in our lives on road movies,” he said. A formative film for the director growing up was Bob Rafelson’s 1970 classic “Five Easy Pieces,” starring Jack Nicholson as a former piano prodigy who abandoned his dreams of becoming a classical pianist for a rootless, blue-collar existence. “It very much stayed with me always – this persona who has this pure talent but has trouble expressing it.”
Making jazz music central to “Last Chord” was far from a difficult choice for the director. “Jazz has always been a part of me, and I think I love it simply because of both the accuracy and the freedom – the fact that a lot of it is built on improvisation, and yet you do have to have a plan,” he said.
Those characteristics, he added, should help “Last Chord” achieve a certain harmony. “I think the word jazz, as it’s reflected in the film, means that there’s a plan, but then anything goes,” he said. “I think that’s really at the core of this movie. There is a plan to go from A to B, but then everybody improvises on the way.”
Riklis is currently prepping an adaptation of Azar Nafisi’s bestseller “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” which will begin filming in Italy in mid-2022. Pic is produced by Israel’s United King Films, Topia Communications and Eran Riklis Productions, Italy’s Minerva Pictures and Rosamont, and France’s Davis Films.
He’s also in advanced stages of development on “The Tunnel,” an adaptation of the novel by Abraham B. Yehoshua, whose book “A Woman in Jerusalem” received the big-screen treatment in Riklis’ 2010 film “The Human Resources Manager,” which won five Israeli Academy Awards. The film is produced by Israel’s 2-Team Productions and Eran Riklis Productions, France’s MACT, and Germany’s Heimatfilm and Riva Film.