Shooting in the cemetery took two and a half days, and everything around the eulogy was shot in one day. It was a burning hot day, with 90 extras and four leading actors in a working cemetery. We had to shoot a four-minute eulogy in many shots with one camera, and that was just a small part of the day. It was important to me that when we shot the reactions of the leads to the eulogy and the two-to-three-minute prayer, they got to listen to it all, so they could go through a full range of emotions.
Another scene that wasn’t even the eulogy made for the craziest day of the shoot. We were on a tight budget, so we started the day with only a few extras for the tight shots, and as we progressed to wider shots, more extras came. It was a hectic day for all of the reasons above, but the moment I felt that we are getting it right was when we did the first take of the eulogy and at the end of it, extras and crew were crying.
How did we avoid the reveal of our famous actor? We did it in the most nonchalant way possible: He walks into a shot of the cantor, after the camera has stayed on it for a while. Then, as Uri did his eulogy, we focused on him and on Eyal, the protagonist, to establish a connection between the two.
Shai asked me: “What makes me actually go to listen to the eulogy? Why not keep walking out of the cemetery?”
For me it was the singing of the cantor that drew him in, but Shai was not convinced. So when we did the first take of that stedicam mentioned earlier, I had the cantor pray-sing from afar. The singing-praying echoed in the entire area of the cemetery and seemed to draw us all in.
Another challenge we met here was creating the believability of a real funeral in Israel. Funerals in Israel are the opposite of what you see in American cinema: There’s usually a huge crowd and it’s informal. As the burial can be on the same day (or the day after, at the latest) that the person died, people often come from work. They don’t have time to change, and it’s never a black wardrobe funeral, at least in my experience. It was important to me and to the costume designer, Chen Oshri, that there would be no black costumes. Our wardrobe had to be colorful without calling attention to it.
The eulogy sequence was the few minutes that our editor, Tali Halter-Shankar, and I spent the most time on. How do we transition into this? How do we make the audience follow and not be bumped out of the film?
A few things were key: The Cantor has to do the whole prayer. For those that know that prayer, I did not want them to feel cheated. For those that don’t, I wanted them to have an actual experience of what it is to be at an Israeli funeral; shortened, the emotionality and the believability would have been lost.
The other question was, do we cut back to Eyal in the middle of it? Tali and I started without it—just the bird-poop story—and only at the end of it do we come back to Eyal. But after showing the cut to the producers, they suggested that we cut to Eyal in the midst of the eulogy. Once we tried it, it elevated the sequence, as we were now tracking Eyal’s journey through another story.
Our last re-write was with the sound designer and mixer, Aviv Aldema and his talented crew. The main idea of the sound was that people around Eyal and Vicky keep living their lives, so that even when we’re in the house, we subtly hear what is going on. This sequence was very challenging, since it’s not only the layer of the eulogy but the story that we experience at the same time: Raphael is going to a day of work but is actually consumed with cleaning the bird poop off of his car.
Aviv weaved those two layers into one, choosing what to highlight and each point. And then, at the very end of this sequence, Raphael screams. There are many ways to go about the scream, and this was the biggest choice we had to make in the mixing room. Aviv was advocating for what he would usually go against and I felt the same: Such a quiet film deserves a scream that comes from down under and attacks you. MM
One Week and a Day opened in theaters April 28, 2017, courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.