Oded Kotler wins Best Actor at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival for his performance in "Three Days and a Child"

Uri Zohar
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At the 20th Cannes Film Festival that took place towards the end of April and into early May 1967, an Israeli film was shortlisted for the official competition: it was director Uri Zohar’s Three Days and a Child, based on a short story by A.B. Yehoshua. The plot follows the course of three days in Ellie (Oded Kotler), a former Kibbutznik and maths teacher’s summer holidays in Jerusalem. Ellie’s ex from the kibbutz and her husband have now also decided to leave the kibbutz and are currently neck deep in Hebrew University entrance exams. And so, they end up reaching out to Ellie and asking him whether he could look after their little boy, Shye (Shai Oshorov)
for a while.
Three Days and a Child was well-received in Cannes, whilst Kotler certainly did seem to enjoy all the luxuries and amenities the French Riviera had to offer. Three days later, he headed back to Israel. News of him having won Best Actor found Kotler at a most unlikely setting: “That Friday night, I went to Haifa where I was meant to appear in Little Malcolm (And his Struggle Against the Eunuchs); a play which I also directed. On our way, we stopped at a café at the Binyamina petrol station, where theatre folk used to pull over and freshen up,” Kotler recalls. “We had coffee and ate some gorgeous crêpes. Alex Ansky, who was also in the play with me, was the only one who didn’t join us – he stayed in the cab and was listening to the Voice of Israel’s 7pm news on the radio. We all suddenly heard Alex shouting, ‘Oded! Oded! Did you hear the news? You won Best Actor in Cannes!’ Everyone at the café, including comedy duo, Dzigan and Schumacher, toasted the win.
I felt totally discombobulated. How could I be right here in Binyamina, whilst winning in Cannes? What happened was that the festival officials simply kept my winning a secret and hadn’t notified me that I should head back to the festival, as is standard protocol today. When we got to Haifa, the audience in the theatre was already waiting for me with flowers and all that. After the play, we headed back to Tel Aviv and straight to a party they’d whipped up in my honour at Club Federica. It was quite the celebration. A few days later, Uri Zohar and Amatsia Hayuni, the producer, who had stayed behind in Cannes and were there for the ceremony, came back to Israel and brought me over this certificate, a small statuette, and a pair of golden cufflinks the winners were given. This was back when Israel was on high alert in the runup to the Six-Day War, and my win raised the national morale like you wouldn’t believe.”
En route to his historic win, Kotler defeated a number of established and highly-esteemed actors in his category, including Dirk Bogarde (Accident) and David Hemmings (Blow-up). Speaking to daily paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, Zohar said, “The fact is, I didn’t direct Oded in the film. It would be more accurate to say that the only instructions I gave him were what not to do. He’s a huge talent, he is, and he gave a stellar performance despite all the challenges that went along with taking on a role as complex as that.” Kotler himself explained, “The jury panel looked at my character and saw someone who wasn’t your garden variety Israeli stereotype. They had a different idea of Israelis in their heads. It surprised them to see a portrayal of a new Israeli man who’s not behaving as you might expect him to, and who’s also not playing a soldier – especially considering the political climate at the time. They hadn’t conceived of a character so nuanced that could also, just as easily be English, German, or French: Ellie is simultaneously loving and cruel to the kid – he wants to get back at the kid as he’s still feeling the pain of the kid’s mother breaking up with him.”
Kotler is especially proud of the scene where the boy’s parents are dropping the child off at his place. “The boy feels abandoned, and it’s up to me to ingratiate myself to him. The reality was pretty much in line with the film’s premise – two strangers striking up a friendship in the course of one scene. Shai was three and a half, and he had to get to know me during film, just as his character did in the plot. Shai was a sensitive, special boy and I tried to keep him entertained. There wasn’t a lot of prewritten text to work with – I was adlibbing all over the place. Every take would come out a little bit different.”

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