‘7 Blessings’ lead actor and writer tells behind-the-scenes story of award-winning film

Reymonde Amsellem speaks to a sold-out Times of Israel audience about making family drama with members of her own Moroccan tribe

A scene from '7 Blessings,' this year's big winner at the 2023 Ophir Awards, including Best Picture (Courtesy PR)
A scene from '7 Blessings,' this year's big winner at the 2023 Ophir Awards, including Best Picture (Courtesy PR)

The Times of Israel hosted “7 Blessings” star and co-screenwriter Reymonde Amsallem on Wednesday night for a sold-out screening of the award-winning film with English subtitles at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

“7 Blessings” swept Israel’s Ophir Awards in September 2023, winning 10 of 12 nominations, with its emotional, dramatic story of a Moroccan-Israeli family during the course of the ‘seven blessings,’ the ritual meals hosted during a post-wedding week.

The crux of the sometimes humorous, intimate film is an exploration of the one-time practice in Moroccan-community families of giving away children to relatives who couldn’t conceive.

It was written by Amsallem and her second cousin, Elinor Sela, who had both begun exploring the subject of Moroccan “surrogacy,” as Amsallem called it, researching occurrences of it in their own family.

The film was a family affair in more ways than one, Amsallem said at the screening, with their own relatives playing several key roles, and their mothers and aunts lending Moroccan caftans for the film’s wardrobe and even cooking classic Moroccan dishes for the meals filmed in it.

Amsallem spoke at length about the sense of secrecy surrounding the Moroccan surrogacy tradition, and how she and Sela spent hours speaking to family members about the phenomenon and how it affected them.

“For us, it’s a love letter to this generation of our grandparents and the culture, the Moroccan culture that won’t exist in a few years,” said Amsallem, as the younger generations move away from those roots and become far more steeped in general local culture. “My children, they’re [simply] Israeli,” she said.

She also talked about winning the Ophir awards in September, the sense of elation that brought, and the sharp end to that joy with the brutal Hamas attacks of October 7, which also scuttled most of the film’s festival screenings and showings worldwide.

Amsellem won her third Ophir and first Best Actor award for her role in “7 Blessings.” The film won Best Film, Best Directing, Best Script, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, as well as Best Makeup, Best Casting and Best Score. It became Israel’s official Oscars entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming awards, but did not make it to the final five nominees.

Reymonde Amsallem (left) and Jessica Steinberg at a ToI screening and conversation about the film ‘7 Blessings’ on February 28, 2024 (Courtesy)

It’s also been a movie that Israelis have had a visceral response to at screenings, often approaching Amsallem and Sela after local film events to tell them of similar stories in their own families.

“Something in this movie opens people’s hearts,” said Amsallem. “A lot of men come to us, telling us that they never cry in movies but they cried in this film.”

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