The Policeman: A Review


Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Michael Moshonov knew from a young age that he wanted to do film. He plays the part of Oded, a young revolutionary, in the Israeli film Policeman, which will be released in select theaters on June 13. Michael currently lives in Brooklyn, but hopes to return to Israel. He urges all readers to give his homeland a visit, and says of the motivations of Oded, his character, “It is truly painful unfulfilled love that will make you do crazy stuff.” With his passion, intelligence and talent, Michael is definitely Jewrotic.

Below is an edited transcript of a conversation between Michael and myself.

What inspired you to become an actor?

Both of my parents always showed me that being an actor is a profession – it’s a hard-working matter. I always wanted to do film. I remember, as a kid, my parents always let me see any movie I wanted to see. The first movie I saw in theaters was Who Framed Roger Rabbit – I was around five. That day, I decided that film is the most amazing thing – that was magic, and I always wanted to be part of it.

Both of my parents came through cinema to the theater; I grew up behind the stage, but the turning point was when I was sixteen and didn’t get accepted to learn cinema. I didn’t know what to do, but eventually a friend of mine asked me to act in his movie. I did that short movie, and about that time, I figured that I really wanted to be an actor, because it felt very natural – very real.

To me, working on the set, to do a movie, that’s the best way to express yourself, because it’s a combination of all the different types of art – cinema, photography, sound, acting, directing, set design – it always was my passion to do this. I don’t care to be a sound-man on a set, or to be an actor, or to be a director – it’s about the opportunity to work with a crew, to tell a story.

What made you decide be involved with Policeman?

I came to it originally through the movie Tehillim (Psalms). That movie was unique because we had no script, and we had a chance to travel with it throughout the world. It got accepted to the Cannes Film Festival, and there I met Nadav Lapid (director of Policeman). I remember watching him and thinking he was very intelligent and very cool, and I said, “Oh, this guy could be a good director”.

Later on, I heard they were casting, and started auditioning for another role. I felt the role wasn’t for me. I felt that I can’t act this role, and I told him, “This role is not for me” – that was the role of Netanel, the leader of our group. Eventually I ended up not taking part in the movie. They cast someone else in the role that I wanted, the role of Oded. After two weeks, they said something went wrong and they wanted to recast, and eventually I got the part that I wanted. So I felt very blessed, because when I read the script, I had a real connection to my character. I understood it. I felt a lot of resemblance to my own life, and when I found out that I was going to have the challenge of making this character real, I was very happy. I felt like it was a sign from above, that I was supposed to do this, and I was very blessed to have perfect cast members. It was fun to work with them.

Oded’s father thinks Oded is part of the revolution because he is in love with Shira, another member of the gang. What do you think Oded’s motivations are?

We did a lot of research for this film; we spent a lot of time with Israel’s underground groups and watched a lot of documentaries. We even went to the West Bank to watch protests. I always think that when people get extreme, there is a very big emotional thing underneath the surface, and I think for Oded, definitely his main motivation was Shira. He was in love with her, and he wanted to this stuff because she was so important for him, and also, because he wanted to be a man, to be strong – and both of those things take him to do the most extreme act.

I always believe that when people get obsessed or extreme or believe in an ideal so much, there’s something underneath, and I wanted to find that in Oded. He wanted to be a man, and he was in love, maybe for the first time in his life, with this girl, and he wanted to do everything for her. When I felt that, it became easier to connect, because I always can do crazy things in love in my own life.

I always like to feel that the film is alive, that it’s really happening. Nadav had a very special way of making us feel that it’s really happening, of feeling the power of the guns.

Do you think the fact that Israel has a standing army and most people have had experience with guns changes the way that guns work in Israeli cinema?

Yes. I saw this movie, The Youth (Hanoar), and it’s a very special movie by Tom Shovav. The movie is about two soldiers who kidnap a girl, in the middle of the day on a bus, and because they’re soldiers nobody notices. Because in Israel it’s normal to see kids with guns walking on the street.

So I think so, in many different ways. And also, in that particular group of left wing rebels, I think for them it’s much harder to use guns, because they’re pacifists, so for them it’s even crazier. But I think violence for ideals – for them it was very hard to take the gun and use it. They did it because they believed in it. That’s what’s very dangerous, when people believe in something, and take arms. That’s what’s scary: You can see in the movie they really believe they need to do this.

Shira is a rich girl; she’s just bored, just trying to find something meaningful, but when you get behind the idea that you have to do it, you’re unstoppable. That’s why the kids are really scary at the end. At the beginning they seem like a joke; they don’t know what they’re doing, but how many times do we hear those stories about kids? They’re naive, but they do things.

Nobody thought this could happen in Israel, but a year after we shot the film, they had all the social justice protests, so you see that the movie reflects something that was happening at that time, that people got tired of economic differences, and wanted to hear the voices and look inside the country, not just outside of the country – and that happened, that summer everyone protested and slept in the streets.

In some ways, The Policeman is about old Zionism, which looks at the enemy from without, versus the new Zionism, which looks within and asks what a Jewish state should be. This is an open-ended question, but I was just wondering if you had any thoughts about those issues.

For me, Israel is my home. I see myself as a very Zionist person. I think today capitalism blinds us, and we must start checking ourselves all the time from inside, and once we’ve fixed everything from inside, it will be easier to fix everything with our neighbors, and find a way to make it work. I want to be optimistic about it. All my life I was afraid that the world will always be a disaster, that they’re always going to fight, and because my mother came from Romania and my father from Hungary, and the Holocaust and everything.

It’s good that we are a different people. We’ve always be running throughout history, but now we have Israel, a state, and we need to be very open to make changes, so we find a real way to peace, and I think it starts from the inside, like everything, even in the spiritual world. In the spiritual world you always have to check what you really want, what you really feel.

Part of real Zionism is to look inside, but to take a bit from the old one, to be on guard, because I lived in the center of Tel Aviv, and when I was ten and fourteen there were two bombs near my house, so I know we’re always on the edge of a threat.

I don’t believe in extremes, so I could never tell you if I’m left wing or right wing – I’m in the center. I think people in the world don’t really understand how much the situation is complex, but I have to be optimistic. I really believe there’s a chance it will be solved. I want to be really open for the next generation, because it can’t be like this forever.

Do you feel that being Israeli factors into your work as an actor and if so, how?

Yes, of course! I moved here, I’ve lived here two years, but I don’t have a dream to be an all-American actor. I really think acting reflects the place you came from. I can only do parts I feel a connection to. I don’t want to act just for acting – I think that in acting there’s a way of letting people hear the voice of society. Acting can be very selfish, because you always have to look inside, so it’s nice to take a character you feel must be heard. Oded, most Israelis would hate him and say, “What’s wrong with you”, but when they see this movie, they can have this feeling of compassion, and identify with him and learn something else about him, these Israelis who like to judge very fast. For me, that’s the challenge – to bring those characters to be heard, to tell their stories. For me it’s an obligation: That’s what I see as the magic of acting. My dream is to be a filmmaker in the end, because I think then you can really tell a story.

Tell me a little about your music video, which just got accepted to the LA Film Festival.

One of my best friends is named Lael. He taught me a lot about how to make cinema. This winter, I came to Israel and I got a friend asking me if I wanted to direct a movie for his band. So me and my girlfriend, a fashion designer, and Lael decided to do it together. I wrote the script, and she did all the art and fashion design, and Lael was a second director and photographer. We did it together so it was very open and very pleasant.

The idea came from – I always wondered what would happen if my girlfriend was in love with a woman, and I felt like I wanted to tell a story of a short romance between two young girls. Even today, in 2014, it’s very hard for people to accept love between the same gender, and this was a good opportunity to show it, and also a challenge to tell a story in two minutes and find emotions – that story was for me, like my first – everyone gets heartbroken in his life. This was heartbreak for the main character.

I feel blessed that I made it and I had such a good team. Maayan, my girlfriend, gave a really good sense of our childhood inside, with the posters, in that room, and Lael did a tremendous job on the actors. Both of them are very trained Israeli actresses. So it was my first big step as a director, and I was very happy to get the message that we got accepted to the LA Film Festival – it’s the first time I’ll be traveling as a director, so I think it’s the first step in my new life, the next thing I want to do. We’re going to go there in June and be the only Israeli representation there so it’s a great honor.

Where do you see yourself going from here?

My dream is to always take good roles that contribute to our society – and also to write a script or make a play and maybe find a way to do something with my parents – I did it only once when I was very young, but I think all of us are ready now.

Is there any story in particular that you’d like to work on?

I always have a lot of ideas; when you have an idea, time is the worst enemy. When people have ideas they need to go with them to the end, even if it will take five or six years. So I started working on a script, and it’s a comedy. I don’t know why, but it’s a comedy, even though I feel more connected to the drama part of my life. I also have small images of a play I want to write with both of my parents about how it is to grow up in a household where both parents are actors, and what’s the difference between the stage and life, and how can you find it in your day to day life.

Do you have a Jewrotic message for our readers?

You always have to remember to keep the tradition, but at the same time, you always have to be very open to the world, technology, and different kind of flows in the thing called Judaism. I had this show where we have to understand that we have all these different groups in Judaism, but we’re all connected. We’re all together and we always have to remember that. We’re truly are a special people, and we need to guard the memory.

Any final words?

I think it’s important for people to see the film because it shows a different angle, a different side of Israel, and I recommend to all the readers to find a way to get to Israel once. Have a trip there, because I really think it changes perspective. When I was thirteen, I had a delegation from the Heschel School in LA to my school, and I earned one of my best friends in the world, Avi Horn. He was my pen pal.

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Shayna is a native Manhattanite whose interests include Torah, human rights, and poetry. An avid procrastinator, Shayna spends most of her time on Facebook, or watching any game involving the Brazilian soccer team. Brasil para Mundial 2014!