A film with No Happy Ending
"When I was 2 years and 4 months old Rafi, my father, died. I know all kinds of things about him from stories of people who knew him, but I think the time has come for me to get to know him on my own. Because as time passes, the memories get lost," says the child Guy Bukai in one of the opening scenes of the documentary film "Rafi Bukai, My Father."
In the film, to be aired on Wednesday on Yes Docu, Guy Bukai, 10, goes with director Mika Adler to encounters with a series of people who were close to his father, the filmmaker who became famous after directing the film "Avanti Popolo," in order to gather memories and stories about his father. The son hopes that the encounters with these people and the stories they tell him will enable him to know his father better. His father died in 2003, at the age of 46.
He talks throughout the film - to director Gidi Dar, with whom Bukai produced two of his films ("Eddie King," and "Ushpizin" ); Rami Stern, who played in "Avanti Popolo" and was a close friend of Bukai's; Orly Zilbershatz, who was his partner in the past and acted in his film "Marco Polo: The Missing Chapter"; Micha Shagrir, who produced "Avanti Popolo" with him; Yoram Kislev, who produced "Life According to Agfa" with him; Assi Dayan, who directed that film and Shuli Rand, who starred in "Marco Polo" and "Ushpizin," among others.
Several touching passages from a home video filmed by Bukai Sr. are integrated into the film, and document the little family started by Rafi Bukai and his partner Maayan, in the period preceding his death. In one of them Bukai filmed himself lying in bed together with his son. "Oy, Guy, Guy, do you know that your father is very ill? Do you know that?" he says to the little boy sitting on his lap.
"There's not much chance that I'll get out of this," said Bukai, looking straight into the camera, in a kind of filmed farewell. "But I'll do everything possible to try, because you're the most amazing thing that happened to us."
In an interview last week, Adler said that the film "Rafi Bukai, My Father" originated in an idea to create a documentary about Bukai that would include short feature films. "At first I met with Maayan, Rafi's former partner and Guy's mother," says Adler. "She herself didn't want to be filmed, but when we sat and talked about the film in the kitchen, Guy was sitting in the next room and didn't seem to be listening to us at all. Only afterwards did I discover that he was listening and heard every word of our conversation. I realized that he's a wise and inquisitive child, and then I had the idea of making the film from his perspective."
Adler explains that in her film she wanted to show Bukai on two planes. One, the father, as he is revealed to his son during the journey on which he embarks, and the second as a filmmaker, his incarnations as a creator of film, his dreams, the shattering of some of them when they came up against reality, how he dealt with the tremendous success of his first film ("Avanti Popolo," 1986 ) and with the resounding failure of his next film ("Marco Polo," 1995 ).
Watching the film is somewhat disappointing, because observing Bukai from the perspective of a 10-year-old does not enable a sufficiently three-dimensional portrait of his interesting character. The rather superficial result is frustrating for those who are somewhat familiar with Bukai's story and expect to learn new things about him. But anyone who isn't familiar with it will be interested in the story, which is full of vicissitudes.
In addition, two scenes by directors who knew Bukai, Gidi Dar and Assi Dayan, which were integrated into the film, are moving, and provoke thoughts about what Bukai could have created here. Bukai's brothers and sisters describe in the film how already at an early age his fate became tied up with cinema. Because his father was one of the owners of the Heichal Ha'asor movie theater in Kiryat Gat, Bukai was able to watch many films already at an early age. As a youth he used to help the projectionist, travel to Tel Aviv in order to bring films, and soon began managing the theater by himself.
After an early discharge from his army service, Bukai had to deal with a serious illness, Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer. He underwent difficult treatments, managed to overcome the illness, and immediately afterwards started to study film at Tel Aviv University. He filmed "Avanti Popolo" as his final project, with a very low budget, during the summer vacation. Almost all the actors and crew members worked on a voluntary basis.
Surprisingly, the film became an immediate success. It was shown at the Locarno Film Festival and won first prize there, was screened at dozens of additional festivals the world over, and was praised by critics in Israel and abroad. Bukai's name was mentioned by everyone as the new hope of Israeli cinema.
"It's a story about two Egyptian soldiers who flee from the Suez Canal after the Six-Day War," says Bukai in a television archive selection that is part of the film. "The film in effect originated as a kind of hallucination of two people walking in the desert, and then came a writing process in which those two people turned into soldiers, and then into Egyptian soldiers, and after that [I set the story] during the Six-Day War. In effect, I wrote most of the film in connection to the first Lebanon war."
Much has already been said and written about the shattering of stereotypes in "Avanti Popolo" in its treatment or Israeli and enemy soldiers in Israeli cinema. The Egyptians were presented there for the first time as humane, while the Israelis were lazy anti-heroes. "I don't know any Egyptian soldiers, I wasn't interested in the character of an Egyptian soldier," explains Bukai in another archival selection in the film. "I constructed it based on absolute human values, and it made no difference to me whether the people were Egyptian, French or Burmese. It was important to me that they be human beings first of all."
After the great success, Bukai tried to raise money for his next film, "Marco Polo." That was a particularly expensive, complex and ambitious production. It was the most expensive film shot in Israel up to then and was filmed in English. But as soon as it hit the movie theaters it was considered a failure. "Your father had a very hard time with that film," says Shuli Rand to the director's son. "He was a lighthearted type, and suddenly he was in a position of responsibility for such a big budget and for a large number of actors and so many people - it was hard for him."
Adler, 34, the daughter of adman Reuven Adler, has a master's degree in film from Tel Aviv University. She mentions that during the work on the film she learned to understand the difficulties confronting Bukai. "All the beauty of 'Avanti Popolo' was that it was a student film that originated in the film department, a small film that everyone worked on in the summer from morning to night," she says. "It was a project with a minimal budget, which got much too long, but everyone worked on it with that passion typical of beginning cinematographers who are willing to kill themselves over their project."
But after it Bukai had difficulty dealing with people's great expectations. "Then he was already Rafi Bukai, the one who had won all the prizes, and he felt that if he made it big once then he had to do it again," says Adler. "This time it was already important to him to raise a lot of money. He managed to bring it a large number of investors, but only later did he discover that if a lot of people invest in your film, they also have something to say afterwards. Although Rafi went with his truth to the end, many people drove him crazy along the way."
Fragments of ideas
Bukai's partner deposited two treasures in Adler's hands: dozens of home video tapes in which he filmed himself and his family in his final years, as well as a bag with notebooks, fragments of ideas and abstracts for screenplays that Bukai had left behind him. "There were several of Rafi's notebooks, in his own handwriting, with loads of ideas for screenplays, abstracts, sketches," says Adler, "and all kinds of things that interested him such as newspaper clippings that he saved. For example, newspaper clippings about Chiccolina, reports about the fact that the pope was coming to visit, that Peres was going to Paris - always something connected to religion or to some president who had come to visit."
From among those notebooks she chose two items. "I gave Assi a synopsis that Rafi had left, two pages, an idea for a screenplay about Freud who comes to be interrogated by the Nazis while his daughter Anna is sitting in the other room, and the Nazis interrogate him as to whether he abused her sexually," explains Adler. "Assi read the synopsis, and inspired by it he wrote the scene that he directed for the film."
She gave Dar a notebook in which there was a story written by Bukai. "One of the things Rafi liked to do was to go joyriding," says Adler. "That means that you go out on errands with a friend, you're driving in the car, looking at girls in the street, playing all kinds of practical jokes, and that's how you spend your time. As a director who was waiting for ideas for screenplays to hit him, Rafi apparently went joyriding a lot."
The story she gave to Dar centers around two men who go out joyriding together, and along with another girl they play all kinds of practical jokes in Tel Aviv. Among other things, they enter people's apartments and anesthetize them. "Gadi took this story, and inspired by it and by stories he heard from Rafi about his illness and about the hospital where he spent days on end, he wrote this scene together with Asaf Suderi."
In the scene Salim Dau (who starred in "Avanti Popolo" ) is seen in the uniform of a hospital orderly, pushing a stretcher on which a man named Rafi Bukai is lying. "Bukai? Where do I know you from?" wonders Dau. An anesthesiologist who joins him walks alongside him, speaks to the patient, prepares a hypodermic needle and a gas mask, and informs him that he's about to anesthetize him. At the same time, the patient imagines himself at home with a wife and child, removes the mask from his face and looks for a lost screenplay.
"Rafi liked films with happy endings," says his sister Batya Bartov in the film. "I once asked him, so what about 'Avanti Popolo,' that's a film with a really sad ending. Then he said to me, 'You know, if I were to make that film now, I would end it differently. I would end it happily, so that the two of them [the Egyptian soldiers] manage to return home.' Rafi liked happy endings."