By Gary M. Kramer.
The 2013 Tribeca Film Festival presented the world premiere of Big Bad Wolves, a thriller from Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. The pair’s previous film, Rabies, showed at Tribeca in 2011, and this stylish film shows their maturation. Big Bad Wolves is an intense horror-comedy about Miki (Lior Ashkenazi), a cop who investigates the disappearance of a young girl. In the course of his pursuit—which includes a nifty chase scene—he ends up handcuffed in the basement of a house belonging to Gidi (Tzahi Grad), a man hellbent on revenge. Dror (Rotem Keinan), a suspect in the crime, is also tied up and being tortured in Gidi’s basement. Keshales and Papushado met with Film International at the festival to discuss their film.
GMK: After Rabies, you have made a second, and possibly scarier, horror film. What prompted you to make Big Bad Wolves?
NP: Aharon and I are more interested in genre films that work; the political message or allegory is not very in your face. It’s subtle.
GMK: Such as the representation of the Arab man in the film?
AK: Yes, it starts scary—you don’t know where it’s going to go—but he [the Arab] is your white knight in this movie. He gives his iPhone to the cop, or wants to smoke a cigarette with a grieving father. When we thought about this scene, we thought about a scene in a Western in which the Indian and the cowboy share a peace pipe and they smoked together.
GMK: So, you’re looking at issues of Jewish guilt and vengeance?
NP: The past plays a big role in the way we act as a country, as a society. We have to survive and we do.
AK: The Holocaust, Palestinians coming to kill us—these things make us paranoid; guilt is in our DNA. Inglourious Basterds was the face of Jewish vengeance. [In our film,] Lior’s character is the moral compass—he has a guilty conscience. There’s also a Jewish mother everyone’s afraid of. It’s all an allegory for the state of mind of the Jewish citizen.
GMK: Big Bad Wolves is a slicker, more visually accomplished film compared to Rabies. How did you grow as filmmakers from your previous film?
AK: When we did Rabies,we tried to find the right aesthetic for it. It’s a hectic story with twelve characters and everybody is on the edge. It’s very edgy and crazy, and the language of the film is also crazy—handheld. It has something to do with our low budget. When we went to write Big Bad Wolves, we wanted it larger than life and to make a fairy tale. I don’t want to compare us to the great minds of the Coen Brothers, or Hitchcock, but we wanted some elegance to it. Not just blood in the woods.
GMK: It’s got elements of torture porn….
NP: It’s a hard [rough] movie. But we also love to see torture porn. Hostel 2 is a brilliant metaphor for a consumerist, capitalist society. Expectation in a movie like this is everything. You have to build your set up, create the tension, and play with the expectation of the audience to make them uncomfortable. With every second something wrong could happen, but not always. You have to keep the audience guessing.
AK: We love to single out stuff in the first act and then play with it. The bicycle—it’s laughed at [early in the film], but in the end, someone uses it to escape. Another great thing was the red herring with one of the cops being [described as someone who] couldn’t find a corpse in a morgue…
GMK: How did come up with the elements of torture?
AK: When we watch films, we always want to see what would make you scream the most!
NP: There is a lot of blood in these movies/torture porn, but it is not always the thing with the most blood that is the scariest. When you think about something that scares you—like pulling the teeth in Marathon Man—that is an excruciating scene. You can’t watch it. Just thinking about it, and you don’t want to hear anymore. We knew when we were told to stop talking about [what’s shown in the film], we knew we had something.
AK: No one really knows what it’s like to lose an arm, or a head, or to be shot, but everybody knows what it’s like to break a fingernail, or get burned by hot coffee.
GMK: This is your second film with Lior Ashkenazi. He literally phoned in his performance in Rabies, and in Big Bad Wolves, you tie him up in handcuffs. What gives?
NP: It’s the only way to control him!
AK: He’s very hyperactive. You have to build a script that always handcuffs him. We cuffed him to the steering wheel in Rabies. We love to cuff Lior Ashkenazi. It’s the only way to get along with him.
NP: I love what Sylvester Stallone did in Copland.It’s heavy stuff. He’s walking heavily. He’s barely talking. I see something different like that in Lior. We know him in real life. There’s something dark in Lior. He’s a character.
AK: We know there is another layer to Lior. He’s not just a hot guy. He’s a capable actor. I think there’s something beautiful in taking an active actor and make him do passive stuff.
NP: In many ways, he’s the moral compass of the film. His instinct—he knows he’s right, but somewhere along the way, he’s questioning himself, and having second thoughts. Him being tied up reflects the audience being captive and knowing what’s right and wrong but not being able to react.
GMK: How or why do you mesh humor with horror?
AK: Some scenes make you feel uncomfortable laughing. In the first fifteen to twenty minutes, people don’t know it’s okay to laugh. But once you catch our mood and go along with it—the ‘bring your daughter to work’ day scene happens—and you know it’s going to be a comedy too.
GMK: What’s your fascination with crime?
AK: We’re geeks. We hardly drink or smoke, we just watch movies all day. I think we have fun through our movies. When we think about fun movies, we think of crime or action or horror films. Through them, we can do what we love to do. The directors we admire are always keen to that sort of subject matter—Coen Brothers, Tarantino, Spielberg.
Gary M. Kramer is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and co-editor of the forthcoming Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.