Honeymoon: Interview with Maayan Cohenby Joy Bernard | 24.07.16
Happiness or intimacy never seemed as elusive or as gratifying as they do in Maayan Cohen’s film Honeymoon: a short, piercing tale about marriage, identity and the strangers we meet and become.
Telavivian Magazine had the chance to chat with director Maayan Cohen to learn more about the mysterious and compelling world she has created.
Hi Maayan! Thank you so much for sharing Honeymoon with Telavivian. Will you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Maayan Meya Cohen. I grew up in Israel; in Jerusalem, Herzliya and Tel Aviv. From a very young age I was drawn to the worlds of dance and acting. After a long trip, during which I wrote a script for a full-length feature film, I decided that I want to make films. Since then, I completed with excellence my BFA in Film at Tel Aviv University and currently I’m finishing up my MFA in the Multidisciplinary Program of the Arts.
I have written and directed short films such as Honeymoon, Zazaland and One Last Time. All were screened on TV and in multiple film festivals in Israel and across the world. These days I teach film and I’m also working on my first full-length feature film.
When I watched your film I recognized a lot of dilemmas and fears that struck a familiar chord; an anxiety that is pretty much shared universally: the fear of making the same familiar, comforting, “right” choice that is inevitably, very finite and therefore stifling.
With that comes the conflicting wish to grow excited all over again and the claustrophobic resentment of the cyclic interaction we develop with the partner we’ve chosen for ourselves. How did you translate all of that into a film? What’s the main feeling you wanted to convey in Honeymoon?
The idea that blossomed into Honeymoon just came up overnight and from there it took on a life of its own. It started from my wish to tell a story about a woman who regrets her choice to commit to her husband during their honeymoon, and from the moment the Japanese man entered the picture- everything became very clear. As a director I like to enter worlds that differ from everyone’s daily routine and I was drawn to the idea of creating a film that takes place in that one location: a beautiful couple stays at an enchanted hotel, but underneath the surface, quietly, a storm is brewing.
I mainly wanted to try to let my viewers experience my protagonist’s inner world where she initially feels like she has missed out on the life she could have had by deciding to commit to one man, then manages to release herself from the clutches of her domestic boredom by meeting a stranger only to end up yearning for the comfort and security she had before.
I personally believe that everyone’s lives are spinning around these two axes–adventure versus routine and comfort- and they impact the fateful decisions we make along the way.
A lot of moments in life are accompanied by the question “what if?”, and its brother “if only…”. It’s very tempting to get carried away by our own “what if”s” and construct whole fantasies. Most people don’t choose the more dangerous and tempting option and carry on with their lives. Some of them are consumed by regret and continue to wonder “what if?” and others abandon their dreams of a parallel, better life.
Where does your protagonist want to escape to? Why does she want to escape? Is her decision not to escape final and whole?
To this day, I still wonder whether my protagonist wants to run away because she’s chosen the wrong partner who can’t contain her or because she’s just someone who always wants to run away from that committed place that’s so terrifying because of its finite quality. Either way, we meet her at a point where she feels bad with her partner and it’s hard for her to imagine a happy future with him. The decision not to run away is not whole, but it’s realistic and driven by the fear to stay by herself and leave the comfort zone the majority of us adhere to.
The Japanese man, in that sense, provides a glimpse into what she could have experienced, but when it boils down to it she doesn’t have a sincere romantic interest in him–he’s only a symbol of the fantasy and escape from routine life she so craves. Oftentimes, when we’re with someone whom we feel comfortable and safe with, we begin to forget who we really are as individuals and that’s why this escape allows her to get to know herself from scratch. Through this escape, she proves to herself that she can live differently, but eventually, she decides to give up the independence and adventure and return to her familiar life.
Your protagonist is a young, pretty woman who is in the midst of her honeymoon with her new beau. She’s also newly pregnant. Despite all of that, she does not seem happy. Her conversations with her husband are about day-to-day bureaucratic things and their physical contact is forced and a little artificial.
In one of the film’s minimalist and charming scenes, we witness her awkward encounter with a Japanese man at the sauna of the hotel they’re both staying at. With a few smiles and funny facial expressions, the stranger cheers her up and manages to embody the fantasy latent in the famous line “one day you will meet a tall, dark stranger” (who will then gallantly rescue you from the dullness of your existence). Why did you decide to make this rather quaint man her tall, dark stranger?
The decision to make the stranger a Japanese man came from an image I had in mind. Before I even had a script I saw in my mind’s eye a woman and a Japanese man sitting together in the sauna of a hotel. This stranger symbolizes for my protagonist not so much a sexual fantasy or an attempt to cheat on her husband, but rather her wish to find some comfort and escape into a distant, different and fantastical world.
Tetsu Mukojima (the actor who portrayed the stranger) brought something very tender and unassuming to this role (much unlike the average Israeli guy); comforting and yet a little aloof. These traits enable the protagonist to easily get swept away to an adventure with him, as his aloofness challenges her and sparks her interest. Additionally, the fact that he’s Japanese makes it easier for her to develop an interest, because she knows deep down that this affair can’t really happen.
To continue my previous question, I think that one of the most heart-wrenching things about this film are the stolen glances between the protagonist and her stranger. It is very rare in life to find true empathy and moments of tenderness (let alone to just catch a break), especially not with strangers. I think that the empathy she gets from a strange man actually emphasizes how strange she is to herself in her own world. Were you trying, through this element of their encounter, to touch on the subject of this almost-incidental, run-of-the-mill loneliness?
Totally. There is this small story here about a war that’s waged inside our soul when we suffer from a longing that creates a sense of existential loneliness. That feeling only intensifies when the person who is closest to us can’t really contain us, and in fact, we can’t really contain ourselves.
In that sense, it is in an encounter with a stranger when we truly need to get out of ourselves, and by making that effort we’re confronted anew with who we really are and with our environment and thus our loneliness fades for one short moment, until that stranger disappears or becomes our lover.
What are you most proud of in this film? What was the hardest part of making it?
There are different moments throughout the film that I love but I can say that the scene I’m most proud of is the first scene because it conveys the couple’s conflict in a minimalist way, only through their physical interaction. In a way I feel that there’s something very difficult and violent about it, but also poetic and very human.
Filming this scene was hard, it was even on the verge of impossible and we had to film it in one shot. It was so traumatic that when I saw it I wanted to just shelve the whole film but over time and with the strong reactions I got from people, it became one of my favorite scenes out of all the films I’ve made.
One last question: what are your plans for the future?
These days I’m working on two full-length features. One is about a woman in a crisis who goes on vacation with her partner in order to save her relationship and herself. The other one is about a woman having an affair in Tel Aviv during wartime. I’m hoping and crossing my fingers to start production soon with one of them.
Watch Honeymoon 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.