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Jewish Journal

‘Pieces’ fall into place for Israeli actress

by Tom Tugend

May 1, 2008 | 6:00 pm

Ayelet Zurer (as Michaela) in *Fugitive Pieces.* Photo by Alex Dukay

"I long for the loss of memory," grieves Jakob, the central character in "Fugitive Pieces," a sensitive, at times wrenching, film based on the best-selling novel by Canadian poet Anne Michaels and directed by her countryman, Jeremy Podeswa, the son of Holocaust survivors.

But he is fated to remember.

Now a successful young novelist in Canada, Jakob remembers the day in 1942 when he was 9 years old and Nazi soldiers burst into his house in Poland. Thrust into a hiding place by his parents, Jakob watches as the soldiers murder his parents and abduct his teenage sister, Bella.

When the soldiers leave, Jakob runs blindly into the woods, digs a hole and hides himself under layers of leaves.

He is discovered by a visiting Greek archaeologist, who smuggles the Jakob out of Poland and hides the boy on his native island of Zakynthos, also occupied by the Germans.

After the war, the archaeologist accepts a teaching position at a Canadian university and takes along Jakob, who, by the 1960s, has become a talented but tormented young man.

Jakob flashes back again and again to the killing fields of Poland, he hunts obsessively for his sister and he speaks to the dead. He marries a beautiful young woman who tries to "normalize" him through her love, but Jakob is emotionally too numbed to accept the gift.


The trailer


It is only when he meets Michaela, a Russian immigrant who understands and accepts his trauma and pain, that Jakob comes to terms with his past and rejoins the present.

The adult Jakob is played by Stephen Dillane, a classically trained British actor, while Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer portrays the intelligent, understanding Michaela.

It is a plum role for Zurer, one of the few Israeli thespians who have managed to combine solid careers in both Hollywood and her native land.

She was born and grew up as a self-described "shy girl" in Tel Aviv, got the acting bug when she accompanied a friend to an audition, went to drama school, and, after roles in various films, scored an Israeli Academy Award for the title role in "Nina's Tragedies."

In 1996, she arrived in America, but she returns to Israel frequently for acting stints, such as in the TV phenomenon, "BeTipul." Her character, Na'ama, has been transformed into Laura in "In Treatment," the current American version on HBO.

Zurer's first English-speaking role was as the wife of the Mossad team leader in Steven Spielberg's "Munich." She is featured in the recently released "Vantage Point," and has the lead female role in the upcoming "Adam Resurrected."

"I would like a dual career in Israel and America, but it is not easy to manage," Zurer said in a hotel poolside interview, speaking with a slight accent which she is trying to erase by studying with a speech coach.

For one, the 38-year-old actress, married to fellow Israeli Gilad Londovski, has a 3-year old son, Liad, and a sideline as a book illustrator.

Zurer is in a rare position to compare moviemaking in Israel and the United States from an actor's perspective.

She applauds the professional advances made by Israeli filmmakers over the past decade and the wider opportunities to alternate between stage and film roles.

"The main difference between American and Israeli movies is the scale of money," Zurer said. "On a $1 million to $2 million budget, including a government subsidy, not every movie has to be a hit to break even, so that takes some pressure off.

On the other hand, with a bare-bones budget, "you need to work faster in Israel," she added. "You don't have the luxury of reshooting a scene over and over, until you nail it just so."

Like her American sisters in Hollywood, Zurer laments that there are few good scripts written for women, and she hopes, in the future, to perhaps work as a writer and director.

In the meanwhile, as she juggles motherhood, emotional ties and careers in two cities 8,000 miles apart, Zurer sighs, "I guess everything is a trade-off."

"Fugitive Pieces" opens May 2 at Laemmle's Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, and Town Center 5 in Encino.

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