Joseph Cedar, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker from Israel, brings us an exceptional tale about an ordinary man in Norman, starring Richard Gere and Lior Ashkenazi. Norman is a small-time businessman in New York City, always hustling for the next big deal. His connections are suspect and his exaggerations quite humorous, but his motivations come into question when he befriends a young politician who in a few year’s time becomes the Prime Minister of Israel. This whimsical drama is eloquently executed with powerful performances and a story that appeals to the masses, but is layered in meaning and symbolism.
I had the opportunity to discuss the making of the film with Miranda Bailey (one of Norman’s producers). Her keen insight and admiration for Cedar is at once inspirational and infectious. Bailey hadn’t worked with Cedar prior to this film, but was introduced to Footnote – a previous film of Cedar’s – by Oren Moverman. (Bailey was one of the producers of Moverman’s last film Time Out of Mind, which also starred Richard Gere). Bailey says, “I was blown away by Footnote. I had to be a part of making Cedar’s first English language film.”
Work on Norman began back in 2014, just prior to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). “At that time, another actor was being considered for the role of Norman,” Bailey shared, “and the budget was much lower.” Gere received praise from critics for his performance in Time Out of Mind at TIFF, and Moverman “…brought up the idea that maybe Richard would be a great Norman…and then when Joseph Cedar the director was excited by it, we moved forward.” What slowed the process was the fact that “… it was an Israeli-American co-production and the first of its kind, [so] there were growing pains along the way.” Bailey cites tax entities and accompanying paperwork binding the gears, but “…in the end, it all got figured out and we ended up with the unique and thought-provoking film we have today.”
Joseph Cedar isn’t a household name – yet – but attaching Richard Gere to the lead may make it happen. While the film is definitely one that centers around both the Israeli culture and the Jewish religion, it is still a film that appeals to all because everybody probably knows a “Norman” or two. However, it is the deep symbolism that Cedar incorporates into this film that creates an even more beautiful story than the topical layer exposes.
For example, an anonymous Jewish scholar shared with me that there is a legend “…which has its origins in the Talmudic statement that 36 men ‘daily receive the Divine Countenance,’ [and] holds that in each generation there are 36 ‘just men’ who are responsible for the preservation of the world… In some versions of the legend, the future of the world itself relies upon their good deeds…” (* Jewish Review of Books, Fall 2010)
Could this be Norman? And the concept of anonymity for charity’s sake is yet another way to truly help someone, attaching no shame to acceptance. Bailey concurred as she laughed, “Joseph Cedar’s work is filled with symbolism and innuendo that even I – having made the film – am still discovering. One thing I love is that I discover something new re-watching every scene.”
With a brilliant cast that Bailey had creative discussions about – but ultimately the director and financiers chose – it is the signature style of Cedar that Bailey, although never having worked with him before, plans “…on doing it as many times as he will possibly allow.” She continued, “My favorite thing about any director is when you feel their own particular voice. If you watch all of Joseph’s films, you can hear it, and that’s what makes him special.”
The creation of Norman truly is special, not just in story but in style. Using unique split screen scenes and music juxtaposing the plot points, Bailey said, “Joseph knew from the beginning what he wanted musically… As a producer, it is my job to support the vision of the director and music is one aspect of that.”
Bailey’s support for this remarkably unusual story – told with eloquence and flare – is a welcomed addition not to mention a change of pace for the American filmmaking world.
© Pamela Powell (4/6/17) FF2 Media
Top Photo: Richard Gere in Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
Middle Photo: Richard Gere and Michael Sheen in Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
Bottom Photo: Lior Ashkenazi in Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
Photo Credits: Sony Pictures Classics