Meet the (New) Director: Tom Shoval, ‘Youth’

Posted by Brian Brooks on 3.25.2014

A North American premiere at this year's New Directors/New Films series, Tom Shoval's Youth received accolades at home in Israel where it won acting and editing awards in addition to Best Israeli Feature at the Jerusalem Film Festival. The film, Shoval's debut feature, also received multiple nominations, including Best Director, at the country's equivalent to the Academy Awards. Shoval previously directed three shorts: I Will Drink My Tears (2011), Shred of Hope (2007), and Ha-Lev Haraev (2005).

[Related: Read Film Comment's full interview with Youth director Tom Shoval here.]

Youth
Tom Shoval, Israel, Germany, 2013, 107m

Description: Tom Shoval’s gripping, haunting feature debut depicts the ill-advised kidnapping scheme of two Israeli brothers (real-life siblings Eitan and David Cunio) from preparation to aftermath. With their father’s unemployment threatening the stability of their comfortable middle-class existence, older brother Yaki takes advantage of his recently acquired assault rifle, courtesy of his compulsory military service, to put into action a plan equally inspired by desperation and a lifelong diet of violent mainstream American cinema. But the brothers might have bitten off more than they can chew: it’s Shabbat, and their victim’s wealthy orthodox family won’t pick up the phone to take the ransom call. This sharply observed study of familial attachment and fraternal psychology broadens into a tough-minded generational portrait that subtly addresses many aspects of contemporary Israeli life, from the role of the military to the recent economic protests to the enduring fault lines of class and gender.

Responses from Tom Shoval:

On film as a childhood roller coaster:
Since I was very young, I've been trying to solve myself with the secret charm of cinema. My father is a cinema lover at heart and since my mom doesn’t have the same attraction to the medium, he used to take me with him to [a lot of films], even if I wasn't [of the right age]. So for me, to enter the cinema was to enter a whole different and emotional world. I guess that I am trying, now when I am making films, to capture the same feelings—this emotional roller coaster I felt as young boy sinking in the seat in dark theaters alongside my father.

On brotherly bonds and economic fallout:
I have a very deep, almost telepathic, connection to my brother. We are not twins—we have a few years between us—but we actually look very much alike. I was always intrigued about this connection and I wanted to translate it into cinema. Another aspect [of Youth] is somewhat autobiographical. I come from a typical Israeli middle-class family and, as with other families like us, we suffered from the economic crisis. My father was fired from his job of 25 years and it was hard for him to re-enter the job market. My brother and I felt this weird, strange underlying pressure... that something bad was going to happen. That tension is the emotional beat of my film.
 
On finding the perfect brothers:
This was a very complicated mission, as my two main actors are not professional actors. Because I wanted to cast biological brothers who look alike, we did an extensive search in which the casting director, Orit Azulay, and I saw more than 200 pairs of brothers. We found the strong connection I was looking for in twin brothers David and Eitan Cunio. Because they didn’t have any acting experience we knew that we were taking a risk, but we believed they had what it took. We did have a big challenge of making them actors in advance of the shoot.
  
On learning something about cinema in the process:
The biggest change for me was to take the risk and work with two brothers who were unprofessional actors. I had to prepare them for the shoot in a few months. There was a lot of pressure, but I knew I had to make it happen. I tried to make them understand what it means to act, to really be in the situation and not just act it. Through this process I found out more about cinema itself and its great quality to go beyond expectations and make the seemingly impossible possible.

On what's next:
I am now finishing writing my next feature film, which will hopefully be shot next year.

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