Lihi Hanoch

Interview and edit by Rotem Pesachovish Paz

Lihi Hanoch is poet, screenwriter, and director. Several of the films she directed will soon be available to stream on the Israeli Film Archive’s website, including The Lost Dreams of the Upper Street (1978), Menana (1980), Monologue of a Young Woman (1981), End of the Oranges Season (1989), and Adam’s Circus (aka ‘Adam’s Zirkus’) (1994). We sat down with Hanoch for a Valentine’s Day-inspired chat about her work and especially her film, End of the Oranges Season , in which she presents an intimate portrait of ex-husband, legendary Israeli rock musician Shalom Hanoch, during the singer’s summer 1988 nationwide tour.

Before we dive into End of the Oranges Season , why don’t we start with you telling us a bit about yourself and your work? Where did it all start?

LH: Oh Rotem, my dear Rotem… there really is nothing more difficult than that. If we all knew the secret, we’d all be starting from there, wouldn’t we? You’re asking me to show you the cave of wonders, except there isn’t one.

What drives you forward? How do you keep your work nourished across five decades?  We would love a bit of insight into that.

LH: It’s incredibly theoretical. Creation is a secret, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is either wrong, lying, or not being honest enough with themselves. All these stories about how it all started, why, what’s behind it, and what came before it – it’s folklore, all of it. It’s what you call ‘the fiction industry’. That’s the beauty of creation, and that’s also the challenge of creation. It’s not a given, you know – that this muse, or demon that calls on you, will come and visit as often as you’d like them to. You don’t know [when they’ll return], it takes you by surprise. It’s an adventure. A great big adventure.
Because I never studied any of it, neither film nor literature, I sort of just wandered into all of this. I’m a firm believer in ‘wandering in.’ Spotting the signs that you’re sent along the way and following them. If there are no signs, then I stay put. There are miracles in poetry, and a whole poem can materialise in its entirety, literally out of nowhere. [Whereas] Film is a multi-person concert, so to speak, not to mention an exhaustively long process – so you do need some sort of sign to get the ball rolling.

So essentially, the answer is ‘something religious.’

LH: Rotem, could you be anymore epic? Let me explain. A couple of days ago, I felt a tug in me, like I needed to revisit some of my old words and ask them some questions. And in those words, a woman – Aza Zvi was her name, may she rest in peace – was mentioned, who was the most extraordinary literary creative; a Jerusalemite too. One day after my first book, As High as the Wheat, was published she asked me, “what do you do in between stories?”
‘Breathe,’ I told her.
The fact is sometimes, I get too overwhelmed, and I’m a fiercely religious woman. So there you go. You set the scene for me to segue into religiousness. But this is my own personal religion; totally mine. And I have been asked about this. I said there’s no need to panic, and that I was being truthful and loyal to myself. This is my religion. I’m in fact the polar opposite of ‘Make a teacher [‘rabbi’ in Hebrew origin – EE] for thyself’ I will happily sit down for a chat with thousands of rabbis, but not a single one of them ranks above me. No one knows better than I do. That’s how I knew, from the moment I put my foot down.

Today, you and I will be doing a deep dive into your film, True Romance. And whilst we’re on the subject of love, what could be more powerful than love? Apropos of the true romance between the divorced or separated, which is really a love that is that much more sophisticated and bolder.

LH: What it is, is simpler. When you love – it’s simple. Do you know how hard it is to hate? How hard it is to be angry? To be vindictive? When I love – there is no sell-by date. It has nothing to do with sharing a life or having children together. I love this man; how could I possibly stop loving him? I’m not all that familiar with this feature. And I say this based on several relationships I’ve had in my life, not just with Shalom.

So, what you are saying is that divorce or separation ultimately don’t erase this great love.

LH: But Rotem, my love, how could they? Erase it? Surely not. Even the difficult relationships can’t be erased. So why should the good ones be? And when it ends in divorce or separation – yes, that is difficult. There’s an adjustment period, and it doesn’t happen overnight. But if you can find that place within yourself where, once upon a time, there was love for your man then I’m convinced you will find it again, just as soon as all the anger has settled and the disappointment over the breakup has lifted.   

In End of the Oranges Season , this ‘divorced love’ between the two of you is unmistakable. I would love to hear from you what put you on the path to making this film, which is radically different to any of your previous work.

LH: I’m not a big fan of this turn of phrase, ‘divorced love,’ and I also don’t think that End of the Oranges Season, in essence, is all that different to my other films. I mean, yes it is a rock ‘n roll film, and music has a starring role, but just like my other films, this one is also a patchwork of all these different bits that, together, make up a whole story. Not a narrative with a beginning, middle, and ending. In my new book, the opening line goes “let’s see you tell a story with a beginning, middle, and ending. I can’t remember who said that to me as their parting words.” And there’s also this thing that’s kind of a staple of all my other films, mixing drama and documentary together; what they call a ‘mixed genre.’ Here too, you had the gigs that were the documentary bit, that were shot by three different cinematographers – but also the totally scripted scenes where several of the artists went from singers to actors. And the set designers, Maya Hanoch and David Nipo, two artists who created an absolutely wondrous whole world. Like the wedding in the field, or the drag bar, and so much more.

Shalom Hanoch, from the film End of the Oranges Season

So how did you come to make the film?

LH: It’s very simple, really, and it’s all in the opening credits. I had just got back from New York where I spent most of the eighties and Shalom said, “pick up the camera and plug in. we have to get you plugged back into this land.” This was either in ’87 or ’88, around the start of the first Intifada – which didn’t have a name yet, at the time – an election year, the ground was shaking. There was the most foreboding sense as though something terrible were about to happen. Maybe a bit like right now. Like it says in the opening credits, ‘Summer grew more violent by the day. Alien voices filled the air, familiar voices grew obsolete.’

And as fate or rather, ill fate had it, just as the film was about to open at the Jerusalem Film Festival, the awful terrorist attack on the 405 bus route happened.

LH: That absolutely destroyed me. Completely and utterly destroyed me. I was thinking the exact same thing as you.

What was working on True Romance like, in terms of writing the script and shooting?

LH: Look, we all went on the road – musicians and actors, cinematographers, sound technicians, set and costume designers, and one fake radio correspondent – that’s what was written at the start of the film. And so it was. Tours aren’t really a thing here in Israel. It’s a small country and it takes a day to cover it all, end to end – one day, one shot. We filmed four gigs in total – down south, in the centre, up north, and one in Acre. I wrote the script as we were getting ready to start shooting. I started [filming] with a near-finished script, but there was also quite a lot of adlibbing. It’s a ‘live production,’ really. Film is always a live production. And in this instance, where you have no control over many of the scenes – like the live shows, for example – things inevitably change on the go, and you gotta have a wizard on your side. In our case that was Ruth Lev-Ari, the film’s executive producer who was working closely with Shalom’s team, led by ‘Shmeilech’ [the late Shmulik Bornstein].
There was no need for any research because I knew the songs and all the players; they’d all been part of my ‘extended family’ since I was 19, when I met Shalom. In my creative process, I write the script based on my protagonists, my characters, and the ‘story’ that I want to tell – then I bring them in, actors and non-actors, and lead them towards ‘being’ and embodying it, my way.
For example, whilst making Menana, I couldn’t just wait for Menana and her husband to sit down for dinner, and for their daughter to then start dancing at that exact moment and disturb their meal, and for the older brother to come barging in, in the middle. Because I had very few days to shoot, I needed to have prepared a lot in advance. In my work process, I first and foremost become one of them. When shooting Menana, I would travel up to Hatzor HaGlilit with my daughter, Maya, every week. We would stay in town for two days so that we could get to know their music, their rhythm, and build trust. My protagonists need to believe me, and in me. And the moment you’ve established that [trust], you have your script and then you can start working and ‘dancing’ with them.

Watching in the present day, I couldn’t help but pick up on this kind of simplicity in End of the Oranges Season which, I feel, no longer exists. The audience, all these men, holding a lighter in one hand, and each other with the other.

LH: I mean, surely it must exist in different types of music, and amongst other audiences that are a different breed. It’s different because the period, itself, is different but that’s just the ‘packaging.’ It’s only the exterior that’s different. I don’t think it’s all that different [then vs. now]. But I also don’t want to wade into this discussion about this generation and all their screens, because we’d be here another ten hours. Also, I honestly don’t know how they manage to stay sane. How they don’t all just lose their minds with this never-ending onslaught of visuals and content, constantly coming at them.

But surely there’s always that longing for what once was, no? Simpler times?

LH: Nostalgia is pointless. Everything is right here. Right now.

What motivated your decision to only have Shalom heard in concert?

LH: It’s because I think an artist talks. [S.Y.] Agnon used to say, “If you’re a talker, then you won’t be a writer. If you’re a writer, you won’t be talker.” I call it ‘Shalom’s monologue.’ His true voice is in what he writes, and how he sings it. That is where he talks. I wanted to hear him. The title of the film refers to Shalom’s true romance with his work; his true romance with this country, and the Hebrew language. And us too.

That’s some pretty powerful stuff, all those silences on the [tour] bus. Especially after everything that goes down on stage, and the routineness of it all – a tired man, sat down at the end of a workday, staring out the window.

LH: Then the bin lorry comes and everything gets collected. That’s exactly what it was like. It was deliberate, and it was right.

Is there anything in the film you would have done differently?

LH: The sound. The budget was very tight, to the point that the sound was being recorded and mixed at the same time, in the studio van that was parked right by the stage. Yes, it was a mistake. But it was also, to paraphrase the title of my second book, Under the Circumstances, a product of the circumstances. Those were the conditions we were working under and with that, we headed into the editing suite. When we arrived in New York, Tommy Friedman who was this absolute legend of a sound technician, and the person who founded Triton Studios in Israel back in the day, he tried to salvage the sound. He said, “Lihi, trust the spirit of the movie. Not the sound. Because that’s as good as I can get it to be.” So yeah, that’s what I would do differently. That, and this one song we’d fucked up. Shalom also felt bad about it – call it ‘an accident,’ I guess. I don’t know why. Sometimes, something just goes because it has to go.

In all the archival footage, is there any moment you might like to watch? Perhaps a moment that you feel hadn’t been documented, and that you would like to watch today?

LH: My grandson, [musician] Omri Keren, said to me a while ago, “Linka, how did you ever agree to let them film you during childbirth? He’d watched Lool 2 the previous night, where Shalom and Arik [Einstein] are singing, “mother, mother, you’re the one who had me” [from Arik Einstein’s hit song, My Mother (‘ima sheli’)], while you see me giving birth to Maya. I told him that those were my best friends, that we’re family [the footage features the likes of Uri Zohar, Boaz Davidson, Tzvi Shissel, Alona Einstein, and others – RPP]. Then he said, “It really shows, this ultra-intimate relationship that you all have.” You also see a lot of Arik and Shalom looking each other in the eye; so deeply and so intimately. It’s such a rare thing. So, as the one who was being filmed pushing out her daughter, what more could I have needed?

You and Maya are so lucky to have this footage. Just before we wrap, here’s a techy question: in the olden days, the archive director used to be in charge of all the footage and it would take a while until you could get your hands on a particular roll of film or footage you were trying to locate. Whereas nowadays, all this footage is readily available to be browsed from home. What do you imagine this change might elicit?

LH: Perhaps people will delve deeper [into the footage], like when you revisit a major passage in a book.

What are you currently working on?

To watch End of the Oranges Season , follow this link:

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