Natalie Portman has turned heads in the lead up to her directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness making its bow at Cannes by declaring that her Oscar is a “false idol” and that she doesn’t know where it is.
The biblical connotations of Natalie Portman’s dismissive disregard for her Oscar in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter are clearly not lost on the actress. Known for her quiet intelligence, the Black Swan star who Kenneth Branagh said had a “formidable and occasionally forbidding kind of concentration” will unveil her directorial debut, an adaptation of Israeli author Amos Oz’s autobiography A Tale of Love and Darkness, at Cannes 2015.
Not only stepping behind the camera for the first time – aside from a handful of shorts – Portman has decided to tackle the non-linear, multi-stranded tale of Oz’s experiences at the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel. With a focus on the author’s troubled mother – played by Portman – the story chronicles his childhood in Jerusalem. This is contrasted with tales of the author’s family’s Eastern European heritage and his own rebellion against a European background in favour of affirming his loyalty to the land of his birth.
A real passion project for Portman, she optioned the rights to the book eight years ago after meeting Oz at his home in Tel Aviv. “The language was really what [drew me], his obsession with words and the way words are connected in Hebrew, which has this incredible poetry and magic,” Portman told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s obviously almost impossible to translate, but there’s just incredible beauty to that. [Jews are] a people built of words, people built of books, and it’s quite beautiful to see that, which is a strange thing to start for a movie.”
But perhaps her biblical endeavours have taken their toll on Portman who dismissed her Oscar, the one she won for her performance in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, as a “false idol.” Certainly, with her physical move away from Hollywood (she now lives in France) and her independent pursuit to get a highly un-commercial film funded, she appears to be drawing a line between the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown in favour of rocking the boat with art house.
Portman’s not just detached from her Oscar, she hasn’t a clue where it is. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen it in a while. I was reading the story of Abraham to my child and talking about, like, not worshipping false idols. And this is literally like gold men. This is literally worshipping gold idols — if you worship it. That’s why it’s not displayed on the wall. It’s a false idol.”
Getting the script right and finding funding for A Tale of Love and Darkness has taken nearly a decade in no small part because Portman has insisted it remain in its original Hebrew language. It’s a bold and brave move for the actor-turned-director, echoing her life away from cinema, not least her decision to live in Paris with her husband and child, but, as Stephen Galloway writes, her fearless proclamation of her “Jewishness” even though she “now lives in a country where anti-Semitism is terrifyingly on the rise.”
Is she nervous, he asks her? “Yes,” she says, “but I’d feel nervous being a black man in [America]. I’d feel nervous being a Muslim in many places.”
The story is clearly close to the actress’s heart. She was born in Israel in 1981 to an Israeli father and an American mother before moving to the United States at the age of 3. Over the last eight years she’s committed considerable time making the $4m film which will make its bow at Cannes 2015 seeking U.S. distribution.