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Director Joseph Cedar discusses his ‘court Jew’ with a twist at ToI preview of ‘Norman’

In Jerusalem debut, acclaimed filmmaker describes his new movie as a love story between American and Israeli Jewry

'Norman' director Joseph Cedar and The Times of Israel's Ops&Blogs editor Miriam Herschlag discuss Jewish identity following a preview screening in Jerusalem on March 6, 2017. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)
'Norman' director Joseph Cedar and The Times of Israel's Ops&Blogs editor Miriam Herschlag discuss Jewish identity following a preview screening in Jerusalem on March 6, 2017. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

There will likely be no better audience for Joseph Cedar’s “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” than Monday night’s packed house for The Times of Israel’s Jerusalem preview screening and conversation with the director.

As they watched the machinations of Richard Gere’s bumbling macher Norman, seeing this modern “court Jew” make and miss his marks, the response from the enthralled rows of English-speaking Israelis was knowing — and at times, uncomfortable — laughter.

In an onstage interview with The Times of Israel’s Ops & Blogs editor Miriam Herschlag following the March 6 screening, Cedar said Gere’s character was based on the early 18th century German banker and “fixer,” Joseph Zus Oppenheimer. However, the twist on the archetypical setup in “Norman” is that the macher is an American Jew, and the contemporary court is the Israeli Knesset.

Cedar is a native New Yorker who emigrated to Israel at age six. He has received two Academy Award foreign film nominations and numerous other awards, including from the Cannes and Berlin film festivals and the Israel Film Academy.

In many ways, said Cedar, “Norman” is a love story between American and Israeli Jewry. Starring Gere, Steve Buscemi, Lior Ashkenazi, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Michael Sheen, the film explores the tensions between the two major hubs of world Jewry, personified by what Cedar called the “gentle American Jew,” Norman, and the depictions of the confident, “maybe arrogant” Israelis.

In the making of “Norman,” his first film set outside of the Middle East, Cedar is also exploring his own dueling Jewish identities.

“I felt like an outsider in New York. I don’t feel like an outsider here,” said Cedar to obvious audience delight on Monday.

From left, Michael Sheen, Lior Ashkenazi, and Richard Gere star in Joseph Cedar's latest release, 'Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.' (Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
From left, Michael Sheen, Lior Ashkenazi, and Richard Gere star in Joseph Cedar’s latest release, ‘Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.’ (Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

After four years working on the film in New York, Cedar has bequeathed this identity bifurcation to his children as well.

'Norman' director Joseph Cedar speaks with The Times of Israel Ops&Blogs editor Miriam Herschlag following a preview screening in Jerusalem on March 6, 2017. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)
‘Norman’ director Joseph Cedar speaks with The Times of Israel Ops&Blogs editor Miriam Herschlag following a preview screening in Jerusalem on March 6, 2017. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

Married to a native Israeli, Cedar said he is “happy to have the American side back in there,” joking that if one of his children weds a classmate from their New York Jewish school, his work will be done.

The “Norman” screening and evening with Cedar was the latest in an ongoing series of Times of Israel Presents events. Future guests include David Grossman, Melanie Philllips, Nir Barkat, Natan Sharansky, Yossi Klein Halevi, Nobel Prize winner Prof. Robert Aumann, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and many more.

Avi Issacharoff, left, and Lior Raz, the co-creators of Israeli TV series 'Fauda.' (Courtesy YES)
Avi Issacharoff, left, and Lior Raz, the co-creators of Israeli TV series ‘Fauda.’ (Courtesy YES)

The next Times of Israel Presents evening is on March 19 at 8 p.m., with the star and creators of the hit Netflix series, “Fauda,” Lior Raz and The Times of Israel’s own Arab Affairs reporter Avi Issacharoff. Hosted by Tol’s social media editor Sarah Tuttle-Singer, the event will take place in Jerusalem at Beit Shmuel. Tickets can be purchased online here.

After a sell-out performance in February, hip-hop opera “The City” returns in English on March 20 at 8:30 in Jerusalem’s Incubator Theater. Tickets can be purchased online here.

The City,' a rap-driven show with hip-hop rhythms by The Victor Jackson Show ensemble, will be performed in English on March 20, 2017 (Yudan Abadi)
The City,’ a rap-driven show with hip-hop rhythms by The Victor Jackson Show ensemble, will be performed in English on March 20, 2017 (Yudan Abadi)

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