Great Waters: Interview with Maya Klarby Joy Bernard | 07.12.16
Tel Avivian director Maya Klar’s film, Great Waters, tells the story of a young man who returns to the seaside city of Eilat to meet a young woman. A traumatic incident by the sea has torn them apart and brought them to a dead-end. Their thoughts will hover in the air and underwater, colliding in the space of the memory-haunted city. Are they doomed to be apart?
Great Waters is a First Course film and a part of a cinema project produced by Israeli production company Green Productions.
Hi Maya! We’re so glad to feature your film, Great Waters, here on Telavivian Cinema. Please tell our readers about yourself.
Maya: “My name is Maya and I like to define myself as a filmmaker and a diving instructor. Honestly, I have put the chapter of diving instruction behind me and have fully given myself over to cinema, but I still feel that diving is a profound and central part of my life and that’s why it tends to appear in my films as well.
I studied Film at Tel Aviv University and as part of my studies I directed the film Great Waters. Throughout my studies I fell in love with the editing field, and edited quite a lot of short films that were directed by students as well as alumnis. I feel that editing films is a profession that enriches and deepens my cinematic perception and understanding, and also influences me as a director.
These days I’m working on a new film that I’m directing. This one also takes place entirely in Eilat, on land and underwater, only this time the characters will actually appear on screen and even converse with one another.”
In the voice messages the protagonist sends to his former lover and in his stream of consciousness that we experience audibly, he expresses a lot of regret for what he has done. He doesn’t really describe what happened, but from his former lover we understand that in some act of desperation he walked into the water—as a person who doesn’t know how to swim—and drowned himself.
What does that act of drowning symbolize? Was he trying to raise his former lover’s attention to his emotional distress? What was he escaping from?
Maya: “Oscar Wilde wrote in the preface to his book, The Picture of Dorian Grey, a sentence that I like:
‘All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.’
A film’s text represents, first and foremost, the literal meaning—what’s there on the surface. Once the literal meaning exists, the observer gives it (at his/her own responsibility) additional, deep and symbolic meanings. In my opinion this is true in films where the text reflects a stream of consciousness and when the text is a dialogue as well.
The protagonist’s text is simple and concrete, and it deals on the one hand with a specific event that took place in the past, and on the other hand with an event that’s taking place in the present when he comes to Eilat and tries to get in touch with the film’s other protagonist. What’s the reason for his actions? What did he escape from? What does all of this signify? These are fascinating questions, which I prefer to leave open to the viewer’s interpretation, that he/she will lend to the film through things he/she experienced in their personal lives and through their perspective.
People do surprising things and we don’t always have access to the reasons for their actions. The film, much like in life, creates gaps in understanding which can be filled by personal interpretations.”
In your film not only do we never see the protagonists communicate face to face, we also never see either of them separately. While this intensifies the feelings of loneliness and sadness that characterize both of them, it can easily create alienation in the viewer.
Were you worried about not giving your protagonists a visual presence or did you actually know that that’s what you were going to do from the start? And if so- why?
Maya: “Of course I had concerns about this and people around me were concerned as well. I was warned that the film might create alienation and that people would struggle to relate to faceless characters. Fortunately, I was young and persistent and didn’t give up my wish to create emotion and subjectivity through a perspective, through the gap between the place and the words.
There are a few scenes in the film when we see couples, and perhaps for a short moment we might think that these are the protagonists. The scene underwater, which is the only scene where actors participate, is reflective of characters who may or may not be the film’s protagonists—and that’s for everyone to decide for themselves.
In that context it’s important to mention that the history of the Documentary genre in film is full of full-length films in which you relate to a character whose face cannot be seen and it’s usually the director. It is like that in films by David Perlov (Israeli filmmaker), Chantal Akerman (Belgian film director, artist and professor of Film) and Jonas Mekas (Lithuanian-American filmmaker, poet and artist). There have also been precedents to that in feature films, in the films of directors such as João Pedro Rodrigues and Marguerite Duras.
This style is very suitable for a short film because within the time frame of 10 minutes you can convey a pure emotional experience, without letting it grow repulsive, alienating or overly intellectual.”
“I couldn’t allow myself to become infected, to be like him. But I felt him all the time”—these words were placed in the mouth of your protagonist, whom we never see, regarding the film’s other protagonist—her former lover—whom we also never see . When I heard these words they were like a kick in the gut. You can relate them to the weakness the protagonist attributes to her ex-lover, although it’s hard to understand what separated the two and what his weakness was.
You can also interpret them in other ways—the fear of overly identifying with your partner and disappearing into him/her, turning into one and thus losing our sense of individuality. Especially when our partner has a quality that puts us off; oftentimes we adopt that quality, and not only out of identification. Perhaps because that’s the nature of relationships, and in particular symbiotic relationships.
What does your protagonist mean by her words?
Maya: “I like to always think first about the simple meaning, and what’s interesting is that the more the words contain a simple and concrete layer, the easier it is to attribute to them more complex interpretations that are tied to the character and to the whole film. The simplest meaning of these words that are uttered by the film’s protagonist is that which relates to the event that haunts her and her relationship with her partner, who threw himself into the ocean in a suicidal act that almost led to his death.
The wish to die, the longing to drown oneself in the heart of the ocean, the depression that led to this act—these are all things that discourage the protagonist out of fear that she herself will be infected by these feelings, maybe because she knows that she, too, tends to have similar thoughts (that’s why she reveals in her words that she felt him all the time).
From the moment such a layer exists and is anchored by the film’s plot and by characterization, deeper layers are also created. You can interpret these words as something that characterizes every relationship, and you can choose not to—I leave the choice to my viewers and accept every interpretation that the text creates.
For example, one of the interpretations that viewers had after watching the film was that the protagonist actually died in the event and it’s his spirit that’s encompassing the film and haunting his ex-lover’s consciousness. I wasn’t aiming for that interpretation, but once I understood it exists I learned to adopt and even love it.
I was trying to make the text as concrete as possible, full of details and anchored by the characters’ characterization. It’s from these simple texts that the viewers can create complex meanings and become active, thinking viewers.”
You placed your film in Eilat, a quintessential Israeli resort town located in the desert. Eilat is characterized by passion, high temperatures and a quite claustrophobic sense of affluence- families, children running amok, tourists.
But in your film Eilat is a reflection of the failing and dying relationship that you’re describing—the city seems emptied of people, the airport is abandoned, the airplane advances slowly on an empty tarmac, the roofs are empty, the windows look out on empty streets, the pool doesn’t have a single person in it. How do you explain this choice?
Maya: “One of the questions that stood at the base of the film was—What is a place? Eilat is a multi-faceted city that on the one hand offers an affluence of passion and pleasure-seeking and on the other hand gives a feeling of fake-ness and degeneration. In the summer it’s light and vigorous and in the winter it’s empty and desolate. How, in that case, can this place be described? I dealt with this question during the film’s preparation stages, and what ultimately guided me was the understanding that a place is but a reflection of its observer.
By choosing locations, light directions and photography angles, we tried to create a subjective viewpoint that is attributed to the observer and evokes a feeling of loneliness.
It was important to me to create tension between the affluent (if sad) past and the vapid and hollow present. The empty pool is an example of an image that contains within it both the present and the past, as you can’t help but think about the once brimming pool that was once there and has emptied. The relationship between the text and the image contain a similar tension, as the words sometimes describe an event that takes place in the past whereas the image reflects the present.
It’s common to say that cinema, as opposed to literature, reflects the present only. I think that interesting cinema also reflects the past and the future at the same time, and many others have of course said this before me. One of the directors who dealt in a very complex manner with the issue of the reflection of time and space in cinema is Alain Resnais, and my film Great Waters was influenced by his work.”
In a desperate act that attempts a rekindling of their connection, the film’s protagonist goes all the way to Eilat, his former lover’s city of residence, in order to meet her on her birthday. He invites her to meet him at “their square” at nine. When she arrives there late she doesn’t see him. He can be heard saying defeatedly—“I came because I thought we can be happy, but it’s too late”, while she wonders, mainly to herself— “Were you really here? Did you really come to see me?”
The sad and somewhat predictably obvious loss has already happened, but in their sadness they finally overlap. Even the recording of their voices can be heard, for the first time, almost in sync.
According to your film, parallel lines do not meet. Why not? Why isn’t the pain resting between them resolved?
Maya: “Plot-wise, while writing I felt that they could not have met, and truthfully I don’t even know if they wanted to, to begin with. Their quick escape from the possibility of meeting is inherent to their relationship and to the painful event that injured them. Experientially, a resolution is actually a release of feelings and what interested me while making the film was the emotional tension.
Three years have passed since I worked on the film, and in retrospect when I watch it I feel that there’s something too symmetric about it. If I had been required to rethink it now, I would construct it slightly differently—the parallel lines down which both protagonists are walking would twist and become blurrier, but they would still would probably not meet.
Maybe it’s a matter of worldview, maybe it’s a matter of intuition or just pessimism—it’s hard for me to define exactly why I’m not capable of even thinking about a resolution in this film.”
Watch Great Waters 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.