“It's a beautiful thing to open up"
In Hadas Ben Aroya’s Berlinale Panorama title ALL EYES OFF ME, Avishag wants to try something new: she wants her boyfriend Max to hit her during sex. Then there is Dror, an older man for whom she dog-sits sometimes. They all struggle with intimacy, each in a different way. But maybe it's really time to try something new.
Cineuropa: In your film, people want to be open towards everything that comes their way. But there is a certain amount of resistance, it seems?
Hadas Ben Aroya: I know what you mean. This film represents a generation that's trying to be bold, daring. What I was trying to express, and what I feel in my life, is that there is a price to pay when you are that liberated. You can do drugs, go to parties, have multiple sexual partners, which is all good, because we see ourselves as a more developed version of our parents, let's say. Younger people don't define themselves as gay or straight; it's not a thing any more, and I appreciate it. I keep being asked about the sex scenes in this film, and I don't understand why it's still an issue. We all do it. I mean, I hope we all do it!
On the other hand, I can see that we are afraid of some basic things: of saying, “I love you,” being honest and vulnerable. We can go to extreme places, but being with one person in bed, sharing your feelings... It's the hardest task of all. I am not a sociologist, but I feel like my parents were able to say what they felt, but they weren't able to do what I do. I find this shift fascinating.
Is that why you wanted to literally show these generations interacting in one scene? I have to say it made me uncomfortable, seeing this young girl with a much older guy.
You feel like you shouldn't be there. It's almost cringey, uncomfortable, but when you “recover”, it's a nice thing that's happening to them. They will obviously not become a couple, and it's not romantic; it's something in between. It's just intimacy. I also feel a bit uncomfortable when I watch it, and it's my film! But whenever something engages you like that, it's a good sign. I didn't want to provoke; it's not my thing. I don't want you to feel uncomfortable just for the sake of it. But if it happens because you feel like you are watching what usually takes place behind closed doors, then it's a good thing. That's what I love about cinema: taking these really intimate things and blowing them up on the screen.
When it comes to sexual fantasies, it's funny how often what we think we want is not what we want. Remember The Piano Teacher?
In general, I would say that, yeah, there is always this gap between fantasy and reality, and most people don't want to realise their sexual fantasies in real life. I dealt with this in my first film, but here, I tried to show it in a more complex way. It's not like Avishag wants to get hurt, and then he hurts her, and she feels bad. It's not that simple. First of all, it's not really BDSM; it's just her wanting to experience something rougher. It's a game, and you play a character. You don't know what she feels, and neither does she: is she really in pain, or is she acting? He is asking, “Are you my whore?” and she agrees, but it's obviously not the case. Is it his responsibility to stop, even though she had this whole scenario ready? It's all very confusing.
The desire to be hurt during sex doesn't mean we want to suffer, but that we want to feel something. She is a bit numb, also because of what we talked about before. Her surroundings are so liberated – it's like you need someone to literally slap you in the face in order to feel anything. It looks like it all stems from the right reasons, and they are such a sweet couple, but it's dangerous. And you can’t see it coming.
We are talking about intimacy, and you show it on screen very well – they just sit there, wrapped around each other, so comfortable. How did you get to that point?
I got lucky, because Elisheva Weil is a wonderful actress but also a friend of mine. We kind of decided together who would play Max, as I wanted her to be attracted to him. We met Leib Levin, and then they became a couple. We cast him as her partner in the film and in her life [laughs].
It was great because there was this chemistry, this closeness. Finding intimacy wasn't hard; they just had to fine-tune it. For Yoav Hait [who plays Dror], it was a bigger challenge. He was the bravest of all! We also used his embarrassment in the scene. Usually, you see a woman asking a man if he likes her body. Here, you have this older person, and a man at that, being fragile. I like showing male characters in a different light because in Israel, everyone is so macho. It's a beautiful thing to open up like this.