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Remains

About this film

What remains when a relationship has hit a dead end? Does something remain at all? In his short film “Remains”, Yotam Ben-David, filmmaker from Israel, explores the relationship between two opposite men; Itamar, a seemingly submissive young man, who is, quite literally even, overpowered and patronised by Thomas, his dominant partner. The dynamics in their relationship are complex. It cannot be reduced to the several, almost petty arguments Ben-David shows. On the contrary, they stand in for a much deeper conflict, an ongoing conflict, between the two protagonists.

Remains shows the multiple layers of a relationship that is no longer a happy one. But is this all? Ben-David has, in effect, created a metaphorical treatment for the concept of power, which can be applied to so many other areas of life. As he himself says, what interested him for the film was the idea of power being attractive and destructive at the same time. He explores this through the lives of Thomas and Itamar, investigating how passivity can become a source of power and weakness a source of control. Both concepts are complex, and so is Ben-David’s film. It is more than what is visible in the director’s frames. It is a film, which has a life beyond the end. Follow it.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
Your film is a very intimate portrait of a couple. Itamar and Thomas are everything but happy. There is a permanent sense of conflict. It’s not the usual happy-end kind of film you have created.

Yes, I was much more interested in the permanent state of conflict as you called it. I wanted to use the form of a short film in order to go deeper and deeper while standing in place, rather than advance through points of change in time. I felt that this would be the best way to treat the subject of the film in the way that would be the most loyal to how it really feels like to be in a relationship that had reached a dead end. I think that one of the most powerful feelings of being in a state of ongoing conflict is that you don’t see the end of it, and as time goes by you lose any hope that it could ever change. It feels infinite. I assume that coming from a place where unresolved pain and conflict has become an infinite reality had also shaped how I perceive this feeling of endlessness that comes with it.

I wouldn’t be very original by saying that happy ends don’t really interest me. I can see how it is useful as a tool to evoke hope but frankly I find it more suitable for children’s’ films or political campaigns rather than a film. I prefer cinema that insists on picking into the unresolved and uncomfortable in order to find out more. It is in those areas and in this persistence that I find I learn most about human conditions. Also, because this form of happy end has such long and dominant tradition, I find that it always creates a sort of closure that kills any potential for further development, good or bad. It is very depressing to end a film with the idea that there’s nothing more to discover.

Itamar and Thomas are two completely different personalities. Thomas is very dominant. He is patronising in a way. Where does this personality come from? Is this something you have been through in your own life?

All of my films have roots in my own reality and my own experience, but at the same time I try to distil and highlight certain elements from this experience in order to examine them closely through my films. In this case I was very interested in this type of role play between dominant and submissive, which is something I believe we all live to a certain degree (even if not in the same volume as in the film). I was specifically interested in the different shades and nuances between those two poles, finding power in passivity and weakness in control. I was also interested in the idea that power is both attracting and destructive.

Remains is not the only film in which you play one of the main characters. I find this interesting in regards to the dominance of yourself in the process, as director, actor, writer. Could we call you an auteur?

I agree with many of the concepts that were shaped around this idea of the auteur. Mostly, I believe in this notion that a good film is usually one that is told through a personal and very specific point of view. That’s what makes the viewing experience unique, as apposed to a film that is controlled by known anonymous templates of shooting or dramatising. This is the most exciting part about more “artistic” cinema, that it focuses not only on the subject matter but also on the cinematic treatment of it, the perception of that subject.

As to casting myself in the main role, it was less a choice that had to to with the centralistic nature of that way I work and had more to do with the fact that I really like working with non-professional actors. For the part of Itamar I wanted someone who would be able to do essentially nothing, to be passive and very minimal with his reactions. As I was auditioning people for the role I found that it was very challenging to bring an actor, who naturally wishes to express himself, to do that. In addition to the fact that the role demanded exposure that not all actors would agree to, it made much more sense to do it myself. For the next films however, I do want to avoid acting and see what happens when I have more time to focus in front of the monitor.

I would like to know why you chose a contemplative style for your film. To me, this would not necessarily be obvious if I looked at the subject matter.

I think its a combination of the way I look at the world, as well as the specific time frame the film describes in regards to the specific story. One of my favourite activities is to sit somewhere and stare, especially outside. There is actually a very dramatic element to this type of regard because once something happens it has such an impact in contrast to everything that happened before, it is already a sort of event. At the same time because the situation between Itamar and Thomas is so tense, it makes any second full of suspense and nerve-wracking. So I would contradict myself a bit by saying, the drama is always there – even when supposedly nothing happens. Thirdly, I was thinking about the tendency of most spectators to hope for a change or a movement, especially in unresolved tensions. I wanted to use this hope, a hope that Itamar and Thomas also share, to see how far I can go without going anywhere. So I would say it was a choice that combined my own point of view along with what I felt was the most effective for this specific story. I love this dictatorship that a film has over the spectators’ time. It is a chance to reflect on things while letting go of control.

You chose the title “Remains”, which, to me, has several meanings. But what is perhaps most apt here is that there is still something that remains between the two men. Is that the right way of reading it? I wasn’t sure whether the film actually has a happy end, but I felt that there was something left.

Yes, I liked the fact that this word has several meanings and I actually saw all of them as suitable to the type of situation I wanted to describe. It is both the ruins or relics of something that was once, yet it focuses not only on what is no longer there but also on what is left. I also liked that it is the verb of staying in ones’ place, standing still, which is another central question of the film. In Hebrew, the film’s name Hisha’arut means the act of staying and hints at the possibility of a choice to stay in that place. These multiple meanings point to questions about the past, present and future of these two men. And yes, it also points to this everlasting invisible fate or force that is tying them together, a mutual pathology. I don’t want to interpret the ending too much as I left it open to interpretation intentionally, but I agree that both Itamar and Thomas throughout the film have a certain power over each other that keeps them rotating around each others gravity, perhaps to eternity, perhaps not.

In one scene, Itamar meets another man for sex. I don’t know whether you have seen the film “Shortbus”, but there is a scene which is very similar to this. A man is incapable of making love to his partner. He loves him so much, but he cannot sleep with him. It’s a moving sequence of events. I felt the same with that specific scene in your film. Can you explain that scene a little, and its function?

I’ve seen “Shortbus” quite a while ago when it came out, so I don’t remember it very well but to pick up on your description of that scene, I read my characters motives a bit differently. I can’t say that it’s untrue but that to me, it’s a conflicting action that has multiple layers. What was mostly intriguing in the moment I wanted to describe in the film, was the duality of this act. We are never really sure what we are seeing and we are not fully certain of Itamar’s motives. It is a sex scene - but there is something very efficient about it, he is looking to escape the control and violence of his partner by repeating it in another violent act of control, he wishes to be heard while literally shutting his mouth. I find moments like these interesting both in films and in real life, with its contradictions and mixed signals it remains a complete riddle. When we do something and are not fully sure why, we cannot analyse it by using rational methods. It goes back to the first question about constant conflict. I prefer to stay with the attempt to resolve something rather than the actual resolution which is often very uneventful.

I truly think that one of the wonders of cinema, maybe even responsibilities, is to describe the things that are beyond schemes of words, of known interpretations and full comprehension. Especially since we live in a period of such dichotomist political reality, I think it is even more important to insist on the greys, the ambivalent.

I know your follow-up film already. What’s next? Are you planning a feature film at some point in the future?

I’m currently in the process of editing a new short film that was shot on a bit of an experimental approach, so I’m still unable to say very concert things about it. At the same time, I’m developing the script for my first full-length feature film, titled “Over Time and Distance”. It’s about two characters, a mother and a son, who are each haunted by their longing for a loved one who is far away from them. This film continues to pursue my occupation with relationships, but also expands them to the family unit and focuses on the the effect that distance and absence has on our imagination and desires.

This film is really exciting for me, because it takes place in the area where I grew up, in the villages and forests of the Valley of Elah (Between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) and also because it includes, within the protagonists’ stories, the historical stories of that geographical space. It’s an area that’s so full of stories of loss, absence and longing. I’m curious to see how, by using the same uncompromising commitment to the present tense, I can expand and explore the past and the future, and see how they surface on the day to day reality.

Thank you for this interview, Yotam.