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New documentary about Ronit Elkabetz features actress’s films and unique fashions

Filmmaker Moran Ifergan’s ‘Je t’aime Ronit Elkabetz’ memorializes the star — steering clear of discussing her 2016 death — with premiere attended by local film world

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

  • Ronit Elkabetz in her modeling days (Ilanaefrati/CC BY-SA 3.0)
    Ronit Elkabetz in her modeling days (Ilanaefrati/CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • The late Ronit Elkabetz in her role as Viviane Amsalem, the distressed, estranged wife seeking a religious divorce in 'Gett' -- the late actress is now the subject of a new documentary (Courtesy 'Gett')
    The late Ronit Elkabetz in her role as Viviane Amsalem, the distressed, estranged wife seeking a religious divorce in 'Gett' -- the late actress is now the subject of a new documentary (Courtesy 'Gett')
  • 'Gett' filmmaker Ronit Elkabetz received six Ophir nominations for 'Gett' (photo credit: Nir Sha'anani)
    'Gett' filmmaker Ronit Elkabetz received six Ophir nominations for 'Gett' (photo credit: Nir Sha'anani)

Israel’s glitterati was out in force Tuesday night for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art screening and official premiere of “Je t’aime Ronit Elkabetz,” a film created by documentary filmmaker Moran Ifergan about the iconic actress who died in 2016 at the age of 51 from lung cancer.

The 70-minute documentary is named for the 2017 exhibition of Elkabetz’s clothing collection at the Design Museum in Holon, a project of love and remembrance by those who organized and curated it, and uses the exhibition, clips of Elkabetz’s films, archival interviews with Elkabetz and conversations with her close cadre as a backdrop to remember the actress’s singular life.

As with many Elkabetz projects during and after her life, “Je t’aime” is a collaboration with Ronit Elkabetz’s brother, Shlomi Elkabetz, who produced it with Galit Cahlon, with Ifergan serving as screenwriter and editor.

The film was first screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July; this premiere was attended by Elkabetz’s friends and colleagues.

The film opens with a scene from Elkabetz’s last film, “Gett: the Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” which premiered in Cannes in 2014 and was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2015. “Gett” was the final installment in the trilogy made by the Elkabetz siblings, zooming in on the dissolution of the character Viviane Amsalem’s unhappy marriage and following “To Take a Wife” and “Shiva.”

Still, the focus here is on Elkabetz’s clothing and love of fashion. The Holon exhibition drew from Elkabetz’s collection of 528 pieces of apparel, and included pieces from the actress’s professional roles alongside red carpet couture gowns and maternity wear.

The documentary illuminates Elkabetz’s stages in life through her fashion. She is shown speaking about her own designs and her love for layers of black, both on film and on the red carpet. “Black is home,” she says.

‘Gett’ filmmaker Ronit Elkabetz received six Ophir nominations for ‘Gett’ (photo credit: Nir Sha’anani)

There are discussions about Elkabetz’s attire for her role in “Late Marriage” with Lior Ashkenazi, for which she won the Ophir for Best Actress, and plenty of time is spent on “The Band’s Visit,” Elkabetz’s droll, award-winning turn with Sasson Gabbai, with clothing designed by Doron Ashkenazi.

The film includes images of Elkabetz’s extreme glamour, the white of her face juxtaposed against her jet-black hair and couture wear during film premieres. In one of the most gripping scenes, Elkabetz is shown gliding down a Tel Aviv Fashion Week runway in a vivid yellow Lanvin “Sun Dress” by designer Alber Elbaz, a Holon-raised designer who often collaborated with Elkabetz.

Both Elkabetz and Elbaz were from Moroccan families and both ended up living in Paris for most of their adult lives.

Elkabetz died at 51 from lung cancer; Elbaz passed away last year from a COVID-related illness, and fashion curator Yaara Keidar has now created shows in homage to both.

There are similarities between Elkabetz and filmmaker Ifergan as well, as both women were raised in Beersheba in tight-knit Moroccan families. Elkabetz began her career as a model, later moving into acting, filmmaking and social activism.  Ifergan left Beersheba for Jerusalem to become a filmmaker, marrying and later divorcing celebrity chef Assaf Granit, with whom she co-parents a son, and Granit was present at the premiere, dressed in his chef whites.

Brother-and-sister director and actor, Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz at the Golden Globes (Courtesy Lanvin)

Some elements felt absent from the film, including any information about the illness that cut Elkabetz’s life short, and it features no one who speaks directly about that loss.

Shlomi Elkabetz, who was Ronit’s work partner, is ever present in the documentary, but there’s a palpable lack of commentary from him about his sister, their work together and how her loss has clearly affected him.

It’s possible that the film assumes that any Israeli audience is familiar with those details about the Elkabetzes.

It’s also possible that Ifergan preferred to leave the personal details out, focusing instead on Elkabetz and her thoughts about the clothing she designed and wore throughout her life.

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