Having given Big Bad Wolves a well merited five star review when it was released here last December, the opportunity to interview the film’s Israeli directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado was too good to miss. But first I had to find them. For since the release of BBW the filmmakers have been lavished with praise, accolades and airline tickets to take them on a whirlwind tour of countries where their presence was sought. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to meet the men behind the year’s most relentlessly dark but entertaining thriller. And don’t just take my word for it. The directors’ biggest fan is none other than Quentin Tarantino, who made an unexpected appearance at the Busan Film Festival in South Korea, telling a worshipping crowd of cinephiles that Big Bad Wolves was “f****** sensational” and “not just the best film in town, but the best film of the year”.
It was at this point during the Q&A that Papushado rose from his chair, removed his tie, raised his arms above his head in hero-like pose and left the podium to audience cheers. “It was an extraordinary moment,” recalls the director, who then went out for lunch with Tarantino. “I was in the presence of our hero and told him that I had no intention of pretending to be cool. I felt like a teenager at a Justin Bieber concert.”
Later over drinks as Tarantino introduced him to the Korean film director, Joon-ho Bong, Papushado could only picture the face of Keshales — off promoting the movie at festivals in Chicago and Denver — when he found out.
“I tried calling him 27 times that day to say: ‘You are never going to believe this but...’”, recalls Papushado, 34. “Aharon had asked me to try and get Quentin to see the film, but I never imagined it would be possible. Fortunately a journalist from the film website Twitch was seated beside Tarantino and he reported the reaction, which went global. So Aharon knew it was gospel.” And best of all, Tarantino sent a gift to the co-director. “All I can tell you is that it was a present Aharon will never forget, but we are not at liberty to say more,” insists Papushado, who months later still feels overwhelmed and humbled by the rapture for BBW. This is hardly surprising as it was only the duo’s second feature. And though it won the equivalent of five Israeli Oscars, they are still new to the game. Born in Jaffa, Keshales, 38, grew up in Bat Yam and after serving in the Intelligence Corps of the IDF attended Tel Aviv University’s film school, where he became a teaching assistant until completing his Masters. He also worked as film critic for Ynet, Globes and Ratings magazine, which made him all the more sensitive (and vulnerable) to the review process when he and Papushado made their first film — a horror flick called Rabies.
“Aharon was actually my professor at university,” Papushado says. “He was a very dedicated teacher and produced my graduation film, which was shown in New York. It was at that point that I said we should make a feature together because I was so in awe of his writing and passion for the Hebrew language.”
A story about a brother and sister who run away from home and fall into the trap of a psychopathic killer, Rabies was a huge success and reinvented the horror genre in Israeli cinema, which was the plan as the writer/directors are passionate about the work of Hitchcock and the scores by Bernard Herrmann.
“We’re not ashamed to be influenced,” explains Papushado, a citizen of Yuvalim who in true Cinema Paradiso-style is the grandson of a film projectionist. “In Israel, some accused us of being Tarantino wannabes. And we were like: ‘Hell yeah!’ We’re also Spielberg wannabes, Hitchcock wannabes, and Scorsese wannabes. Of course we want to be like them, they’re the greatest.” Ironically it was Korean cinema that had the biggest impact on the duo, as it showed them it was possible to be influenced but still make a story their own.
“Koreans draw on films from Japan and Asia, but retain their own identity and that gave us the confidence to make an Israeli film that would bear the influence of the West, but still make it very Israeli, very Jewish-like in a way.”
The appearance of an old man delivering soup for his son in the middle of a torture scene is just one of many moments in Big Bad Wolves when the Jewish effect shines through. This is all the more remarkable when you consider the movie is about a vigilante policeman violently punishing a man he believes to be the paedophile who murdered his daughter. Yet amid all the hammers and knuckledusters, there are calls from concerned wives and mothers and an estate agent who will do anything, noch, to sell a house.
With BBW still to open in France and Spain, expect an investors’ stampede when “the Papushales Brothers”, as they have been dubbed, look to fund their next production — Once Upon A Time In Palestine.
“It will be the first Israeli spaghetti western,” explains Papushado without a hint of irony. “It’s about the British in Palestine and a time when we were the freedom fighters trying to kick them out. The Haganah are the sheriffs [cowboys] quite literally and in Israel no one ever really talks about that period, which is the origin of the country’s story.”
Tarantino cannot wait to see it, along with a lot of other Hollywood film types, some of whom have already expressed an interest in remaking BBW. There is certainly export potential for Israeli writing thanks to adaptations of TV shows such as Prisoners (Homeland) and Hostages, but Papushado says the duo are in no hurry to hand it over.
“We have a lot of respect for American cinema as they are very good at translating and adjusting the mentality of the original. But with our film you are dealing with paedophilia, which is a tough subject, and you have to nail the subtle tone, which is what makes it interesting. There is also that very dark and morbid Jewish sense of humour to contend with, so we are waiting for the right offer and someone who will do it well.”
Until such time they are responding to appearance requests at home and overseas, while working on Once Upon A Time In Palestine. “It has been an incredible period in our lives,” Papushado reflects. “For Aharon particularly it’s a dream come true, for not only has his film hero — Tarantino — praised our work, but he also got to marry the woman of his dreams.” That woman is Lilach Sonin, one of Israel’s premier news and sports anchors. “For 20 years he vowed to marry her. Or someone just like her. So when she came to a screening of Big Bad Wolves and told him how much she loved it, this otherwise shy guy felt he could ask her out for coffee.
“Two months later they were married. It’s a movie.” Just not the kind the Papushales Brothers would make.
Big Bad Wolves is out on DVD