Return: Interview with Shay Levi

by Joy Bernard | 15.06.16

Shay returns home after a psychotic breakdown – a chronicle of young man attempting to find his place in a family setting and a modern world he feels alienated from. A story of few words and that which is lost and found between them.

We spoke to director Shay Levi to learn more about the work process behind this delicate, moving and unusual creation.

Hi Shay! Can you tell Telavivian’s readers and myself a little bit more about yourself?

Shay: “I was born and raised in the city of Rehovot and studied film at Tel Aviv’s Minshar School of Art. My affinity with cinema is something I felt from a very young age, but I guess that only around my high school years I began to think more practically about studying film. Today I’m a freelance off-line editor and working on a feature documentary.”

Now that we’ve learned about you, could you expand on Return

Shay: “I made the film as part of my final project in my film studies at Minshar. Unlike other short films that I had worked on throughout my studies, the work on this film, from beginning to end, was complex and a direct result of the content this film addressed.

My wish to convey such a long process in a short film, along with my attempt to capture that shapeless and profound experience in a sincere way, made it necessary for me to consistently deal with questions about shape and structure.

Thus, from the beginning of the writing process to the final cut, I did not stop trying to make the film’s structure as precise as it could. I would say that more than half of the film was re-shot in two rounds of re-shooting that happened with a large time gap in between, while the script was rewritten and a lot of scenes were not put to use.This fragmented and disassembled modus operandi was fitting of the theme, but was not easy to work with, to say the least.”

The film tells the story of Shay, a young man who is incapable of returning and readjusting to the demands of his family or the society he lives in. His thoughts are not narrated, there is no dialogue between the characters that clears up what exactly happened to your protagonist (apart from the reference to his trip in India). Whatever happened to Shay? Why did you decide to leave that open? 

Shay: “Every film is a dialogue between the present and the absent. The balance between the two is something that is very dear to me, as a director and as a viewer. That’s why I wouldn’t want to take away from the viewers something that was intentionally given to them- the liberty to interpret as they wish.”

Shay’s inability to interact with his family and fulfill their wish for him to be ‘normal’ can also be perceived through his unusual behavior, but also mostly through what isn’t being said- his mother’s incomprehensible telephone conversations, his father’s uptight, seemingly apathetic and distant approach… 

What really struck a chord with me was that scene where the entire family is eating dinner and has meaningless small talk. The scene quickly digresses to the point where everyone tries to force Shay to eat. What did you want to express in the family’s forced silence and lack of true dialogue?

Shay: “The story with this film is that the communication is nonverbal and the experience can’t be communicated verbally. That’s a challenge that Shay’s family, as well as the viewers, are requested to deal with. There are a lot of things in our lives, and they might be the most meaningful ones, that simply don’t happen in the framework of language. We use words to say something, but the words are just the tip of the iceberg that is the mental experience. And their silence revolves around that.”

You didn’t allow any of the characters, or the viewers for that matter, to penetrate Shay’s inner world. Only in the scene where he holds the baby does something about him soften and you can see him make a true connection. When his family goes looking for him and for the baby in a panic, it really pulls at one’s heartstrings. I watched and just wanted for them to be left alone there on the bench, by themselves. How did the idea for that scene come about?

Shay: “I might not have succeeded to convey my protagonist’s inner experience the way I hoped to. Shay’s character looks for some other kind of communication. Something more primal. Something that would be less absorbed in the creator/consumer discourse, in criticism, in judgement or in our own thoughts about how people should be and how they should communicate. He is asking for something that is much more essential. This subject occupies me a lot.

Overall, the film definitely touches on communication and people’s way of dealing with a psychotic experience, but I feel that’s relevant to how we communicate on a much broader level. After all, we live right alongside one another and don’t always see or meet one another with an open state of mind or on a more instinctual level.”

What was the most challenging moment in your work process? What was the most satisfying one?

Shay: “As mentioned above, the work on this film was a very challenging experience for me, but there were also plenty of moments of satisfaction in the work. When a moment works as well in front of the camera and even more than you imagined it would, when you get acknowledgement in real time and over a long period through the dedication and commitment of a lot of good, talented people working alongside with you.

When the work on the film finally ended it was another moment of satisfaction, as its reception and screening at the Cannes Film Festival.  More than that, what I really love is how people communicate with the film and react to it.”

Finally, could you please tell me what made you want to tell this story?

Shay: “What made me want to tell this story? Well, we tell the things we need to tell and make the films we need to make. That’s just the way it is.”


Watch Return on Telavivian Cinema.

Telavivian Cinema is a project which will unveil work of cinematic art crafted by local directors.

From animation to drama to comedy, Telavivian short films will be streamed weekly and accompanied by our conversations with the their talented makers. Make sure you stay tuned for the screenings, as the films featured in the magazine will change on a weekly basis.

Telavivian Cinema is curated by Joy Bernard.


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