‘Golda’ Director on Helen Mirren’s Casting and the Choice to Use Real Battlefield Audio

‘Golda’ Director on Helen Mirren’s Casting and the Choice to Use Real Battlefield Audio

When Guy Nattiv came on board to direct Golda — centered on the first and only female Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir — he knew he didn’t want to make a war movie, despite the film being set during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. “We’ve seen war movies before,” he figured, and what audiences hadn’t seen before was Meir’s story.

With Golda, Nattiv, who broke out with his short film and subsequent feature Skin, hopes to bring more understanding to Meir’s leadership during the conflict, which was seen both inside and outside her country as a failure and preceded her eventual resignation. “A lot of the film watches on as Meir and the generals listen in to the sound of men dying on the battlefield as they play cat and mouse with the Egyptians and Syrians. There’s no blood on display but the agony and pain is embedded in the very soundscape itself,” reads The Hollywood Reporter review of the film.

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Ahead of the film’s release, Nattiv talked to THR about his choice to use real battlefield audio in the film, the criticism of the casting of Mirren, who is not Jewish, to play Meir, and what it is like to be releasing Golda as Israelis are protesting the current Prime Minister’s attempts to reform to country’s judiciary.

What did you want audiences to understand about Golda Meir that they may not have been aware of previously?

Golda, in Israel, was basically a myth. She was maybe a statue, but no one put her name on schools or parks. She was kind of the pariah of Israel because her name was connected to the failure of the Yom Kippur War. It was kind of easy to blame an older woman from Milwaukee who didn’t know a lot about the war regarding what had happened. The Israeli generals did not take responsibility, did not say, “It’s on us.” She said, “It’s on me. I’m resigning.” And that’s the narrative that we grew up on, that Godla was a failure and it was a horrible war, but no one spoke about it. It was kind of a hidden secret until 10 years ago when declassified documents got out from the state and the truth came out that the actual intelligence division fucked it up. So, it wasn’t only her, that was the face of this failure. When I read the script by Nicholas Morton, I felt that we could do justice to this pioneer lady who was not perfect, and who was a controversial character, but she was not the only person whom we could blame for this war. So when I read the script, this was basically 80 percent war, 20 percent Golda. I pitched my idea to do the opposite, to let’s focus on Golda and let’s have 20 percent war. I wanted to do a war movie with not a single drop of blood.

In the film, the audience isn’t shown much of battle or the frontlines but we hear battlefield audio as it is presented to Golda. What was the thinking behind depicting the war in this way?

I grew up on The Conversation with Gene Hackman and Blow Out, the Brian De Palma film where there’s a recording of a murder. I also thought of The Life of Others, where he creates a narrative through sound. I thought about how Golda experienced the war, which was only through sound because she couldn’t go to the front. So (I thought) why don’t we bring the war into the war room rather than just spend all our money shooting war scenes with tanks? So, I got from), who was a commander in Battalion in the South. He owned all those recordings. I showed him the movie and I asked him if he can give these (recordings) to us. I was blown away by the number of recordings from 1973. It made me cry and I did put it in a movie. What you hear, a big part of it, is real sound from the front.

Was it a difficult decision including the real audio? I know your father fought in the war. It is one thing to portray war, it’s another thing to portray the war with real audio. What made you decide that the audio should be in the movie?

The cinema today is so blended, you have documentary and narrative together. Look at Oliver Stone’s J.F.K. He used real footage from the assassination. I thought this would add to the authenticity. I asked the veterans what they thought about it, and they said that it’s an homage to the people who really gave their lives to the war. And when we screened the film in front of 6,000 people in Jerusalem with war veterans, they just were in tears and felt it was a beautiful homage. And we also dedicated this film to people who lost their lives in the war.

Mirren’s casting as Golda has been criticized given that she is not Jewish. What do you want critics to understand about your casting choice?

When I came to the project, Helen was already cast as Golda. Gideon Meir, Golda’s grandson, said to the producers, “I look at Helen, I see my grandmother. That’s who I want to play my grandmother.” When I came (on), they told me, you got the job why don’t you meet with Helen? She came to my house in the middle of the pandemic and we sat and talked for three hours. She told me that when she was 29, she toured (Israel) and went to the kibbutz and volunteered and fell in love with an Israeli man. They toured the country, they hitchhiked and they were staying there for three and a half months. She was more than just a visitor. When I spoke to her at my house, I felt that I’m speaking to my mom. I felt that she’s someone from my tribe. I felt that she was someone who understands the bits and pieces of what it means to be Jewish. So I felt that she’d be an amazing option to play Golda other than the fact that she’s one of the best actresses of our time in our time. I respect the discussion. I think that CODA 30 years ago would probably be cast differently. And when I see CODA with people with hearing difficulties, it makes it much more authentic. And I think that Rain Man would probably not have Dustin Hoffman today or Dallas Buyers Club would not have Jared Leto. So I’m open to that, but I personally thought that Helen is perfect for this to play Golda, especially after we got the blessing of the family.

What did you want to audience to understand about Golda being a woman, and holding that position of power?

The disrespect and the misogynistic approach by those commanders and her staff in 1973 was despicable. You see that when she’s taking the blame because no one has enough guts and enough respect to say, “It’s me.” She took the blame because she’s a woman and she was older and she was not coming from the milieu of those Sabras, of the Zionists. I think if she was not a woman, it wouldn’t have happened that way. On the other hand, she’s a pioneer, she paved the way for Angela Merkel, (Margaret) Thatcher, Hillary (Clinton), and many others. I think (her) downfall and the fact that she was the wrong person, in the wrong time, in the wrong place affected how women are treated in politics in Israel.

How is it to be releasing the film when Israelis are protesting the current Prime Minister’s attempt to reform the judiciary?

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — extreme government I would say — is leading the country into mayhem. He’s leading us to catastrophe. It’s basically what happened in 1973. So when I went to demonstrate with my dad and my friends and my family, I met people from the Yom Kippur War wearing this t-shirt that said, “I fought the Yom Kippur War and now I’m fighting for democracy, again.” But this time we don’t have those enemies around us that trying to kill us. We have ourselves killing us from the inside. And the good thing about it is that you see the young people woke up. All the young people woke up in Israel and, with the older generation, you see hundreds and thousands of people going to the street, every single Shabbat. I really hope that the high court will disqualify what Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to do and I hope that his government will obey the ruling of the high court. Golda believed in the high court, she believed in the system.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.