INTERVIEW: All in the Family: Dover Kosashvili On Ethnicity, Mothers, and "Late Marriage."

by Steve Erickson

(indieWIRE: 05.13.02) -- When Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi), a 31 year old from a very traditional Soviet Georgian family, falls in love with Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), a slightly older Moroccan single mother, sparks fly in Israeli director Dover Kosashvili' s "Late Marriage." Zaza's family members are a screaming bunch of maniacs whose passion in the name of tradition -- even if it means humiliating their son and his girlfriend. They make George Costanaza's parents look like a model of respectful politeness and goes against their stated insistence that behavior should be guided by intelligence, not the heart. (Moni Moshonov, the actor who plays Zaza's father, even resembles Jerry Stiller). Devoted to the custom of arranged marriage, his family even takes him to visit a 17 year old as a prospective bride. However, he falls in love with Judith, earning hostility from his family. Kosashvili creates a comedy with an extremely uncomfortable edge, avoiding the easy positions of affirming tradition or celebrating rebellious romanticism. As one can see from the following interview, the amiable director nevertheless proved to have strong opinions about his intentions. indieWIRE talked to him in New York in April. Magnolia Pictures releases the film on Friday.

"I didn't want the style of the film to interfere with the audience. I wanted to give more power to the characters and have the audience construct it from the story."

indieWIRE: Is the conflict between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews one of the underpinnings of Zaza's family's hostility towards Judith?

Dover Kosashvili: It has to do more with her not being Georgian, regardless of her ethnicity. She's older, she's a divorcee, she has a child. She could be Russian or Ethiopian, but if she's not Georgian, that's what does it.

iW: Does the Georgian community in Israel tend to be more conservative than other Israelis?

Kosashvili: It depends, because there are wide variations in the Israeli population. There are Orthodox Jews, Arabs, immigrants who follow traditions from other countries. You can't really define Israeli society as one group. There's lots of diversity, but roughly, you can say that Georgians cling more to their traditions.

iW: I noticed that Zaza is the only character in the film who mentions God. Are arranged marriages a part of a religious tradition?

Kosashvili: The arranged marriage has more to do with culture, not religion. So arranged marriage is not necessarily just a Georgian tradition. Other communities and religions have it. Love came in and became popular. Before that, arranged marriages were part of every religion. For kings, it was a political maneuver.

iW: Your camera set-ups and framing tend to be fairly distant. Is this an attempt to emphasize the characters' isolation?

Kosashvili: The camera is distanced? No, if you sit down and count the shots, there are plenty of close-ups. In some way, you don't get the feeling that there are so many close-ups, but they exist. But you have to see it and count them. Believe me! However, you're not the first person who told me they have the feeling that the camera is always distant.

iW: Is that a maneuver on your part or a coincidence?

Kosashvili: I didn't want to move the camera because I didn't want the style of the film to interfere with the audience. I wanted to give more power to the characters and have the audience construct it from the story. The result of that, which I didn't intend, is that they see the camera as distant.

iW: Was it deliberate to cast an actor who looks like you to play Zaza?

Kosashvili: He looks like me? I hope so! In Israel, he's a sex symbol. But when he auditioned, I thought he was too much of a pretty boy for the part. Then I looked at the recorded audition and found something else in it. I decided that when I cast him, I would make him as ugly as possible. Maybe that's why he resembles me! But he's nicer looking than me even though I tried making him look ugly.

iW: And he learned Georgian for the part?

Kosashvili: The cast members are half actors who are not Georgian speakers and half Georgians who are not actors. The actors had to learn Georgian and the Georgians how to act.

"The cast members are half actors who are not Georgian speakers and half Georgians who are not actors. The actors had to learn Georgian and the Georgians how to act."

iW: What inspired you to cast your mother in the film?

Kosashvili: Lack of the right actress. First, I tried to find a Georgian actress, but in Israel, there are none. So I cast an Israeli actress and tried to get her to learn Georgian. But she didn't reach a minimal ability even with the accent. So I went to the woman who inspired the script.

iW: There's a lot of her in the part?

Kosashvili: She's the original version of it. She didn't want to act, but I told her that otherwise, she would ruin my career.

iW: I noticed that most of the first sex scene is done in one take, and then it cuts to an overhead shot. Was it difficult to film this scene?

Kosashvili: My embarrassment was the hardest part. I thought it would be easy as cake for me to shoot this love scene. In the monitor, it looked OK, but when I raised my head to look at the actors, I got nervous. Any scene like that could be pornography unless there's some subtext to it. It's different from just what you see. For example, when you see these two people making love, it's actually about their loneliness.

iW: To me, Zaza's relationship with Judith seems far more sexual than romantic.

Kosashvili: I don't think so, because sex is not enough to make you stay with a woman more than one or two nights. When Zaza comes to Judith, she's an experienced woman who knows how to please a man. When he meets the teenager, she plays with him. With Judith, he feels like a man, but it costs him too much. He knows that she's not the right woman for him.

iW: Do you think he's also acting out of fear of being rejected by his family?

Kosashvili: No, he also doesn't know what it is right. He has passion for the young lady he meets at the beginning and also for Judith. Who is the right woman for him? He doesn't really know. He wants both of them, but like his parents, he thinks it may be better to start from the beginning with a new relationship. It's not fear. Even if his parents weren't in his life, he'd think like that. Then they come in and cause other problems.