Director Joseph Cedar on Orthodox Judaism, The Social Network, and the nightmare scenario behind his latest Academy Award-nominated film
How would you characterize Eliezer’s marriage?
His wife is afraid of him. They don’t really have a relationship. Once he thinks he gets the award, things become softer. She’s so trapped with the information she has—one of the best things that happens in her life is based on a mistake. He has problems, this man. He’s not easy to live with. But everyone becomes a little softer when they feel their self-worth is confirmed. He doesn’t turn into Robin Williams, but he becomes a little easier.
Why did you set Footnote in the Talmud department of Hebrew University?
The Talmud department is an extreme version of other departments. I like the tension that exists there. No one compromises anything for anything. I spent a few months meeting a Talmud professor regularly once a week, going over different issues that exist in the department, generational conflicts, the history of the department, and in the field of Talmud study. One of the questions that interests me is whether the Talmud was edited after it was a written text or on oral deliverance? In other words, when was it first written down, before or after it was edited? The written word is inflexible, while oral tradition allows for a lot of flexibility. When we lost the flexibility is a question that is important to me in my life. I feel closer to the oral world than the written world.
How would you define yourself Jewishly?
I belong to a community that observes. But I asked the New York Times’ publicist to take out a sentence that described me on a blog as an Orthodox Jew and pro-Zionist because I don’t define myself that way. I don’t want to be labeled with those three words—Orthodoxy has some positive connotations but many negative ones. It stands for many things I oppose in an active way. I do wear a kippah most of the time and find some consistency to the times I wear it—I do so publicly, and privately I won’t. I’ve shaped my observance to my lifestyle.
Who are some directors you admire, either in America or elsewhere?
American cinema has not been very impressive in the last couple of years. There’s a Hollywood I admire but it’s not the Hollywood of today. I loved The Artist. … The Social Network is the sort of movie I want Hollywood to create: It’s smart, well-made, with real Hollywood charisma. It has a good story, great writing and acting—tells something that’s so much bigger than what’s in-between. I’m really interested in Paul Thomas Anderson. Boogie Nights is one of the most complete films that exists. It has what a great film needs to have.
How would you like people to be affected by your film?
I’m happy if they go into the film. The way they leave is their problem.
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