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The ambition of Natalie Portman

by Joe Winkler, JTA

July 25, 2013 | 2:23 pm

Natalie Portman attending the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Los Angeles, February 2013. (Joe Seer/Shutterstock)

Natalie Portman attending the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Los Angeles, February 2013. (Joe Seer/Shutterstock)

Natalie Portman, once named Natalie Hershlag, is no stranger to ambition. She played her first critically lauded role at the tender age of 13, and just ascended from there (OK, true, her role in the Star War Trilogy was abysmal, but the whole endeavor was as well) culminating in an Academy Award for her work in “Black Swan.”

Now, she’s chosen to engage in her most ambitious attempt to date: adapting Amos Oz’s prize-winning, internationally beloved memoir “A Tale of Love and Darkness” (ATOLAD). Adaptations of literary work’s generally present more challenges than directing a regular movie, but Oz’s book presents its own set of  daunting challenges.

In ATOLAD, Oz paints a highly impressionistic and vivid world that spans from pre-Independence Palestine to contemporary times. Oz, with his characteristic blend of lyrical romanticism and keen psychological insight tells the story of the Jewish nation in diaspora and Israel, through the prism of the heartbreaking personal story of his extended family. The scope of the book feels like one of a history book, with the personal detail of an expansive family tree. Moreover, the book shifts back and forth through time, circling around Oz’s mother suicide. Portman, if she chooses to create a more linear narrative, will have to piece together the jumbled puzzle of the book, which consists more of tenuously connected anecdotes than a clear narrative.

Portman has never directed a feature-length film, though she has directed a short film, and was elected to serve as the youngest jury member at the Cannes Film Festival. She faces an steep uphill battle to pull this movie off. Yet, despite the challenges this newbie director faces, she can bring a personal insider touch to this compelling story of Israel’s birth. Or maybe she can take some pointer’s from her director, Terrence Malick, whose evocative, non-linear movies, would work well with Oz’s style, but for now I remain skeptical, though excited.

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