In WWII love story, Israeli actors face their Bulgarian roots
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In WWII love story, Israeli actors face their Bulgarian roots

Bulgarian-Israeli film about a teen triangle illuminates Jew-Gentile relations in Nazi-allied country

Moni Moshonov told 'Good Evening with Guy Pines' that his role in 'Bulgarian Rhapsody' made him feel as if he was living what his parents experienced during the Holocaust. (photo credit: Courtesy 'Bulgarian Rhapsody')
Moni Moshonov told 'Good Evening with Guy Pines' that his role in 'Bulgarian Rhapsody' made him feel as if he was living what his parents experienced during the Holocaust. (photo credit: Courtesy 'Bulgarian Rhapsody')

When “Bulgarian Rhapsody,” the third film in a historic trilogy about Bulgarian Jews, got turned down for this year’s Oscars, director Ivan Nitchev was almost sanguine.

Nitchev, recently in Israel to speak about the film, said he measures success in other ways.

“The biggest competition for art is time,” said Nitchev. “What is going to last and what is going to disappear.”

The film was the first coproduction between Israel and Bulgaria, starring Israeli actors Moni Moshonov and Alex Ansky. The producer, Nissim Levi, is also Israeli.

What Nitchev really hopes is that Israelis will go see the film.

“It’s the audience that really determines a film’s success,” he said. “We left part of our souls in the film and I hope young people are interested in it.”

Veteran director Ivan Nitchev wanted to show the relationship between Jews and non-Jews in Bulgaria during World War Two in 'Bulgarian Rhapsody' (Courtesy 'Bulgarian Rhapsody')
Veteran director Ivan Nitchev wanted to show the relationship between Jews and non-Jews in Bulgaria during World War II. (photo credit: Courtesy ‘Bulgarian Rhapsody’)

The film is the third part of a trilogy, following “After the End of the World” (1999) and “A Journey to Jerusalem” (2003). The first film was also considered as a possible Oscar nominee.

“Bulgarian Rhapsody” tells the story of a love triangle between three teens — two Jewish and one non-Jew — living in Bulgaria during World War II. Moshonov and Ansky play fathers of two of the teens.

The film focuses on humanity in the context of history, intending to show what Bulgaria was like during the war, said Nitchev. It makes clear that, while most Bulgarians were on good terms with the Jews, Bulgaria was actually allied with Hitler and his Axis powers.

Producer Levi said they included that fact very intentionally.

“Most people don’t know that Bulgarians were allies with Hitler and that they lived under the Nuremberg Laws,” he said.

Radio announcer and actor Alex Ansky, said his parents refused to speak Bulgarian to him once they emigrated to Israel, preferring to focus on his Hebrew (Courtesy Alex Ansky)
Radio announcer and actor Alex Ansky said his parents refused to speak Bulgarian to him once they emigrated to Israel, preferring to focus on his Hebrew. (photo credit: Courtesy Alex Ansky)

Ansky and Moshonov, who both come from Bulgarian Jewish families, said that being in Bulgaria and acting in the firm allowed them to relive aspects of their early childhood.

Ansky, who moved to Israel from Bulgaria with his parents when he was four, said that his parents, along with many other Jews, survived because Bulgarians refused to comply with Nazi demands.

He spoke with The Times of Israel in a joint interview with Nitchev.

“My parents survived due to the generosity and open hearts of many, many Bulgarians who accepted Jews, hid them and didn’t let the Bulgarian regime have the lists of (Jewish) names,” he explained.

Moshonov, who was born in Israel after his parents left Bulgaria, spoke in Bulgarian in the film.

He told celebrity follower Guy Pines that making the film allowed him to close a circle. Ansky commented to Pines that he played a character who reminded him of his own father.

Both were struck with what it was like to wear a yellow star during filming.

Ansky and Moshonov have acted on stage and in films for most of their careers; Ansky’s daughter, Michal Ansky, is an Israeli food personality.

Ansky said his parents assimilated into Israeli culture soon after they arrived. He said his father never regretted moving to Israel and living in a Jewish state.

“I am not sorry,” he said. “We knew what happened in Europe and wanted to change our fate in life. The fate of the Jews is to have a state of their own. So, as a boy of four years old, I did not believe in a state of my own, but my parents took it seriously and they believed in it — in creating a state of their own.”

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