Last Calls: Interview with Ruthy Pribarby Joy Bernard | 08.03.17
This week’s Telavivian Cinema pick is Last Calls, a short film that explores the journey seventeen-year-old Tal sets off on when she finds the cellphone of her older sister who died six months earlier. In a fit of curiosity, Tal starts dialing the last numbers on the phone’s memory in an attempt to grasp more details about her beloved sister’s last day.
Telavivian Cinema’s curator Joy Bernard had a chat with filmmaker Ruthy Pribar about grief, loss, uncontrollable urges and of course—the making of this piercing short film.
Hi Ruthy! First of all, many thanks for sharing your exceptionally touching and unique film with us. I’d love for you to introduce yourself to our readers.
Ruthy: “Hi! I’m Ruthy Pribar. From a very young age I was always interested in art and would draw on every scrap of paper that came my way. When I was in high school, I almost accidentally started extended studies in film and fell in love with the field. Later on I learned film at the Sam Spiegel Film School and ever since I graduated from my studies I’ve been living in Tel Aviv and working as an editor of documentary films and television series while writing and directing my own films.”
Your film is dominated by an experience that I am unfortunately very familiar with (much like many others) and that experience is this feeling that evolves while you grieve over the loss of a loved one, especially if he or she passed away unexpectedly—that you wish you had one more moment with that person.
The realization that this moment is not going to happen combined with the sense of confusion and emotional disorientation that are a part of the grieving process, make us begin to doubt our closeness to our lost loved one or suddenly have a hard time remembering essential things about them like their voice or sense of humor.
When I lost someone who was very dear to me several years ago in unnatural circumstances I walked around for at least a year wanting to call him and would start dialing his number only to realize that—oh, wait, I can’t, he’s gone.
The protagonist in your film takes this experience one step further. She finds the cell phone that belonged to her dead sister and goes through the last calls that were made from the device in some attempt to get a grip on her loss. How did you come up with the idea for this strange and painful manner of dealing with grief?
Did you intend to create a film that would address the subject of grief or is it something that just happened as you developed the film?
Ruthy: “The idea for the film came from my personal experience of dealing with death in the family. There is something about the physical presence of objects that were left behind that just intensifies the absence. Oftentimes, these objects contain thoughts and feelings, snippets of full lives. Holding on to these objects is inevitable because that’s all that’s left—memories and objects.
In the world we live in, cellphones are one of the objects that tie us to the world around us, they connect people, and in a moment this object has lost all meaning. Tal is actually trying to give this object the meaning it once had, now that it is kind of orphaned after her sister died. Through it she is trying to revive her sister, if only for a moment. Her sister’s name flashing on the screen creates an illusion of life.
During the process of making this film I realized that more than anything, this film talks about a separation. A separation from a loved one through a separation from objects or from the meaning we give these objects.
I’m a person who has a hard time letting go—of people, of objects, of experiences or feelings. I fondly remember moments that passed and people I shared things with, even if only for a short while. There is something about cinema that is exactly this, intentionally focusing on specific moments that were chosen carefully. It soothes me that these moments are perpetuated in the film and aren’t left to fade in my consciousness. That way I don’t have to part from them.”
One of the calls Tal makes from her sister’s cellphone leads her to a guy her sister used to have some sort of romantic or sexual relationship with in the past. In a moment’s decision Tal impersonates her sister and suggest to the guy that they meet up. When he arrives at the meeting point they agreed on, he obviously doesn’t find the person that he expected to see there.
As he leaves, Tal follows him and creates an interaction with him, but when they begin to get intimate she grows frightened and withdraws.
Why does she make this unconventional move? Is it an attempt to connect with this guy out of pure interest in him or is it an insistent attempt to touch the sister who will not return, to follow in her footsteps?
Ruthy: “There’s something not entirely conscious about Tal’s romantic pursuit of a guy who used to be her sister’s lover. She happens to get into this situation and gets swept away in the moment. But while she’s there, and even manages to feel something for this guy, she experiences an epiphany—if she were to stay there she would be crossing some line and she may very well no longer know herself if she crosses that line.
For a moment she forgets herself within the story, kind of takes on her sister’s identity—it’s a blurry line between past and present and between reality versus memories. She understands that it’s not the right thing to do, neither for her nor for him. When it comes down to it, she doesn’t really want him but rather what he represents. She only wants to feel close to her sister, and she understands that this is not the way to do it.”
The deed Tal does is in a way an invasion of her sister’s privacy, a breaching of a certain limit. Do you think that it’s a grey area since the sister has passed away and therefore her privacy can’t really be disrespected in that sense? I personally believe that it’s a very grey area because the way we deal with loss often leads us to do things that normally we would not have considered or dared do.
Did you intend to raise this question of morality, or do you find it ridiculous to judge your protagonist in these circumstances? Do you think that her age should also be taken into account when this question is approached (because after all, Tal is a seventeen year-old teenager, not an adult woman)?
Ruthy: “There really is a moral dilemma here. Tal undoubtedly is lying and hurting people along the way, but it comes from an uncontrollable urge. She can’t stop, it’s a whirlwind that swallows her in. I believe that even if she was older something like this could have happened, but her young age does play a factor in that in that it allows her to totally immerse herself in this.
Eventually Tal gives in to her urge, she wants to get to know her sister, to understand something more about her. It’s something no one else can give her, and she is willing to pay the price for it.
When a person you loved so much disappears from your life in one day, it’s a crazy loss of control. Tal tries to regain a semblance of her control of the world, to create a situation that will allow her to understand, to feel. She doesn’t know where this will lead, but there’s a need here that is stronger than her. I don’t judge this need, I relate to it. Tal acts according to her inner truth and she withdraws when she understands its repercussions. It’s a moral act.”
In one of the scenes Tal talks to her mother on the phone, and her mother tells her about hers and Tal’s father’s trip abroad. She expresses regret that Tal has not joined them on the trip. Tal doesn’t share with her mother in that conversation the story of what she’s found or what she’s been doing. Why? Is she ashamed? Does she feel that her mother won’t get it?
Is there also a statement here about the individuality of grief, about the fact that it is almost impossible to share this emotional experience with others?
Ruthy: “I think that Tal would have actually liked to share this with her mother but the latter is physically and mentally far from the place Tal is at. Tal’s loneliness is part of what sends her on this journey. The ability to talk to people who had known her sister, some intimately, is a way to dispel the loneliness of her grief. I actually experience her as someone who seeks closeness, who is looking for someone to talk to about her pain and simply doesn’t fully know how to.”
You chose to leave almost all the questions that were raised throughout the film unanswered. Much like we got a small peek into the battered inner world of your protagonist, so we remain in the end right on the edge, without knowing how she will handle her grief later on and what else she will discover about her sister.
Did you choose to direct the plot in such a way because of the time limit (after all, this is a short film) or did you feel that it was essential to the experience you’re describing here?
Ruthy: “Dealing with grief and loss is never really over, it just changes with time, and in a way that’s what I was trying to convey in this film. Tal begins to accept the presence of her dead sister in her life. She doesn’t erase her, she doesn’t start something new or put it behind her—she understands that this is something that will stay with her, probably for life.
That’s why questions aren’t answered and the future isn’t totally clear, simply because that’s how I, personally, see and experience life, whether they’re depicted in a short film or a full-length feature.”
I couldn’t agree more. Now, to cap this interview off, please tell us what’s your next project.
Ruthy: “In the coming months I’m going to start shooting my first feature film titled Asia. It’s a film I’ve been thinking and dreaming about close to four years now, and making it happen is so exciting to me. Apart from that, I recently finished shooting a new short film that is now in the editing stages.”
All the photos were taken by photographers Barak Brinker and Bart Grietens.
Watch Last Calls 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.