When truth in story-telling leads to Golden Globes success

Ronit Elkabetz bewitches as Viviane Amsalem in Gett

Yesterday, I found myself sitting in Grauman’s Egyptian theatre in LA, listening to a panel discussion with the directors of the five films nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. I expected to be entertained and charmed. I did not expect to leave changed.

As I listened to each director speak, I was reminded of the power of voice. And the power of story. Each director (in almost every case, also the writer) set out to make a little film about something personally meaningful. The result, in each case, is a poignant, provocative, and powerful film resonating with audiences around the world. Five varied films, told in five foreign languages, birthed in five different countries—Israel, Sweden, Russia, Poland, and Estonia—yet each one has a message that’s universally resonant and relevant.

I could devote an entire entry to each one, and perhaps I may. But if I could encapsulate what I walked away with yesterday, it was a renewed appreciation for those who dare—to take something they’ve struggled with or lived through, and allow it be a vessel through which something beautiful is born.

For Israeli brother-and-sister duo Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz, the directors and writers of Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, it was the story of what their mother’s life might have looked like. In telling her story, it seems entirely likely the pair may well achieve what hundreds of years of talks, or attempted talks, have failed to do—to create change in the Israeli divorce laws whereby a woman does not have to wait (three years, in Viviane’s case) for her husband to consent to her request for a divorce.

In the Estonian film Tangerines, Georgian director Zaza Urushadze uses the violent canvas of war on which to paint a picture of two men from opposing sides—a Chechen and a Georgian—who transcend hatred, animosity, and ethic, religious and cultural divides to reach a seemingly impossible place of compassionate understanding and connection.

At the outset of Force Majeure, Swedish director Ruben Ostlund strips the hero in the opening scene, orchestrating an undoing of the heroic male figure that dominates pop culture, and which, suggested Ostlund, is a subtle way to build men up so they go to war. And asks us to join him in pondering the question, What might happen if you don’t?

I walked away from the symposium reinvigorated about a book I’m writing, or rather, why I’m writing it. And reminded of another project I’d vowed to commence, and still had not: this blog. (For the reason behind my procrastination, see yesterday’s debut post.)

Collectively, the directors reminded me of the value of diversity in story telling. Not because of some cherished end result—like box office success or Golden Globe victory, though of course that’d be nice—but just because you never know who you might touch or what you might instigate, just by adding your voice to the collective conversation.

Tonight, I’ll get to toast the winner at the post-show party. But in my mind, they’re all champions.