Ephraim Kishon is Israel’s leading satirist who finds satire-writing “boring” and a screenwriter who finds screen writing “boring,” but he has written more than 30 books, hundreds of articles and four films. Why? Because “I am a writer.” And how does he bear the boredom? “I do everything I can to break the routine. I wrote an opera…”
Kishon is here this week to launch the American run of “The Policeman,” a comedy that is an Academy Award nominee for best foreign-language film of 1971. “If I make a picture there has to be a reason for it,” he told a couple of Stateside journalists today. “I am mainly a writer, but because I am very bored with writing I am now directing pictures. It is such a full feeling of creation–something close to God’s deed.”
With “The Policeman,” he said, he “wanted to make people laugh” while at the same time “touching” them with a very “human” story. The film is about a pallid middle-aged man (Shay K. Ophir) who is learned in Scripture but insists on trying to make good with the Israeli police force despite 20 years of bumbling. “It is a true situation”–in Israel, the United States and elsewhere–Kishon said; such men cannot accept failure, even in pursuits in which they fail all along the line.
Of Ophir’s character, Avram Azulai, Kishon elaborated: “He doesn’t want to take off the uniform and be a big nothing. On the other hand, it is a great human tragedy to dismiss these people.” But Kishon’s talk of “boredom” dominated the talk. He acknowledged that in making films,” enjoy only one thing, and that is the cutting (editing) of the picture.”
FROM CONCENTRATION CAMPS TO ISRAEL
Kishon’s first film, “Sallah,” was an Oscar nominee for 1964, but lost to Italian Vittorio De Sica’s “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” This time around, “The Policeman” is almost certain to lose to the same De Sica’s “Garden of the Finzi – Continis.” In between, Kishon made “Ervinka” and “The Big Dig,” neither of which is much known in America. His consolation is that he makes movies for himself and for Israelis, and doesn’t much care about foreign opinions–except those of awards-givers.
The slim, bespectacled writer was born in Budapest 47 years ago. At 15 he was wearing a yellow star. At various times he was interned in–and escaped from–prison camps in Germany, Russia and Hungary. Once he spent six weeks hiding in a cellar “eating only tomato juice,” which he still cannot stand today. A sculptor in metal as well as a scrivener, he calls himself the only European writer in world history who learned Hebrew,” remarking: “In that day I was crazy. If I told you I learned a whole Hebrew dictionary by heart…”
Kishon went to Israel in 1949 on papers stolen from a Hungarian. “He was taking a bath, I took all the papers he had. I do not feel any remorse. He remained the same goy he was. I saved my life.” Of his 23 years in Israel he says: “I thank God for every minute.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.