Israeli-American filmmaker Asaph Polonsky closed out his first week ever in Cannes with a Critics’ Week prize for his first-ever feature. One Week And A Day, which drew strong reviews and a standing ovation at its official screening, took the GAN Foundation Award last night which comes with a 20K euro purse to help market the film in France. French distribution was earlier secured by Sophie Dulac. The film has also sold to Australia, Italy and Brazil with U.S. offers on the table. New Europe Film Sales has international rights. Polonsky calls winning the prize, “really exciting, as it will help get the film to an ever wider audience.”
It’s been a heady week for the first-timer who says he was pleased to learn that the circus-like cacophony that can appear to be Cannes from the outside is not really what it’s like once you’re in it. “I knew of course that Cannes has a huge love for cinema and there’s all this other stuff around it. But when I got here, I really felt like film is the goal of it all and the love of it. Not that I thought it was bulls*** but it’s definitely not, it’s real.”
One Week And A Day is the story of a married couple and the disparate ways in which they deal with the death of their son following the weeklong mourning period of Shiva. Wife Vicky (Evgenia Dodina) seeks a return to order and routine while husband Eyal (Shai Avivi) avoids it, instead spending a marijuana-fueled day of existential exploration with a stoner neighbor.
Avivi is sometimes referred to as “the Larry David of Israel,” but Polonsky, an AFI alum, says he didn’t set out to have the veteran comic actor come off that way. “I never planned it to be a Larry David thing, but what people are seeing in it is because it’s a character who is saying what he thinks. Basically he does what he wants. Unfortunately, most of us can’t do that on a day-to-day level and I think for Eyal it’s always been there, but he’s never acted on it and now that he’s in this place that he’s lost his son, he feels that he can do whatever he wants right now. He’s allowed to.”
The film grew from a kernel of something that played out in Polonsky’s own life, but is not fully based on real events. When he was younger, the girlfriend of a good friend passed away after long illness. A few days into Shiva, “We were just sitting there and there’s not much to say. At one point, this one guy goes, ‘Do you maybe still have some medicinal marijuana that she had?’ It was such a sad moment, but also brought this kind of humor into it and something about that moment really stuck with me.” Two years later, his father’s sister died. “The characters are all fictional, but just kind of looking at how everyone reacted differently to that process — and sometimes the differences were very subtle — it was seeing that and I started writing it as a feature.”
Directing was “the best school I could have asked for,” but Polonsky has a hard time pinpointing exactly what he picked up. He hesitates in our conversation then answers, “I knew it, but I learned how really valuable people that you work with can be… People aren’t there to fight or just to say yes, they were invested and it was important to find them.”
One Week And A Day doesn’t incorporate a political backdrop that is often part of current Israeli cinema. Polonsky didn’t purposely avoid it. He says, “It’s not like every day when you’re living there you’re dealing with it. It’s not like the characters in this film don’t care what’s going on outside, they just lost their son. That’s what they’re dealing with.”
The director is currently living in Australia where his wife is working, but normally resides in LA. He was born in the States and then moved back to Israel for a spell before attending the AFI. He’d ideally like to make films in both the U.S. and Israel, although is eyeing his next project Stateside. He’s working on an LA-set relationship dramedy, yet doesn’t rule out making a jump to bigger features.
“I’ve been reading some scripts that are bigger. In almost everything that I’ve done, I’ve wanted to jump more. Hopefully people that will see this film will think that I can do something bigger.”
Here’s the One Week And A Day trailer: