Amos Kollek is back in New York. Although he has lived in the city “for long periods,” he says, he is now living in Israel full time, and is back for what he suggests is a fool’s errand: supporting the May 4 opening of his latest film, “Chronicling a Crisis.”
Sitting in a Chelsea diner, he shrugs and admits, “I’ve already been here too long for a one-purpose visit. I know the film isn’t going to be a success financially. But it’s a very personal movie for me. I’m very attached to this film.”
As a filmmaker, Kollek has never been given to understatement. Love them or hate them, his films are nothing if not emphatic, whether they are screwball comedies like “Goodbye, New York” and “Forever, Lulu” or neo-realist tragedies like “Fiona” and “Sue.” But calling “Chronicling a Crisis” a personal film is definitely making an understatement. Kollek wrote, directed, narrated and photographed the film with mini-DV cameras. He’s on camera for most of its 90 minutes, and the crisis it chronicles is initially his own.
After the disastrous failure of his last fiction feature, a 2002 Audrey Tatou comedy regrettably titled “Nowhere to Go But Up” (and later unfortunately retitled “Happy End”), Kollek found that producers and money men were not returning his telephone calls. His father, former mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek, was in his 90s, and his vigor and health were flagging. His mother was in her 90s, too.
“It was a depressing time,” says Kollek, now 64. “You find yourself looking around and asking, ‘What is there to life?’ You look to the future and think, ‘It’s downhill from here.’”
Although he has published four novels (and signed a contract for a new one last week), Kollek didn’t have a book idea in him at the time. So he picked up a mini-DV camera and began shooting his life in New York and Jerusalem, not knowing what else to do.
“At a certain point, maybe it was one of the times I was with my father, I thought, ‘I can see where this can be a movie,’” Kollek recalls.
Then he met Robin Remias.
Remias bears an uncanny resemblance to the central characters of several of Kollek’s darker films. She’s a prostitute and a drug addict, a strangely bubbly figure despite her circumstances, and she shifts the focus of “Chronicling a Crisis” abruptly from Kollek’s rut to a more dramatic and surprisingly compelling narrative line.
What is it about hookers that keeps drawing Kollek’s attention? His answer is at once wry and yet earnest.
“I met a lot of politicians when I was growing up,” he says. “And I realized they’re all hypocrites. They never live up to anything they promise. I’ve found that most people, especially prostitutes, including Robin, were nicer, and they didn’t have this duplicity.”
Warming to his subject, he continues, “A lot of prostitutes are uninteresting and nasty, but some are really likeable like Robin, and she’s very intelligent. They live a parallel life; they don’t live by any rules. It’s a weird kind of freedom.”
He pauses for a moment, brushing at some crumbs on the lapel of his jacket, then then, suddenly somber, adds, “I don’t envy it; it’s a terrible life.”
Yet Robin seems remarkably comfortable with her life, and, at least as we see her in the film, she appears to be less manipulative than most junkies. We even see her briefly stop using drugs, but by the time the film ends, she is shooting heroin again.
“My feeling is, it’s so damned hard,” Kollek says, shaking his head wearily. “All the people she knows are either users or dealers. It’s hard to get out of that circle. Even her boyfriend [who takes her to meet his family in Italy in one of the film’s more unusual sequences] is sort of a half-time drug user.”
By the time he had finished shooting nearly seven years of footage, Kollek and his wife and two daughters had moved back to Israel, his father had died at 95 and he had managed to get the financing for a new film with Moshe Ivgy.
“I had 140 hours of footage,” he says flatly. “I had to get to the editing or it would never be finished.”
Many viewers compare Kollek’s fiction films to the work of John Cassavetes, seeing what they think is the same loosely improvised quality.
Kollek is baffled by the comparison: “All my movies are scripted, and they are performed as written, unless an actor has a problem with the way I wrote a line in English. Then I’ll defer to them [since] I’m not a native speaker. But other than that, what you see on the screen is what I wrote.”
Now he faced the task of creating a narrative from 140 hours of film that truly were the product of happenstance.
“At some point, the film became more ‘scripted’ than you think,” he confesses. “I started thinking about elements that I thought were missing and I started shooting very specific things. When Robin went to Italy, I thought I couldn’t go wrong there, so when she asked me, I came and shot.”
Things have picked up for Kollek. He made “Restless” with Ivgy and has just finished a new film. He has the contract for a new novel and is happy to be back in Jerusalem. But “Chronicling a Crisis” is still around, an elaborate souvenir of an unhappier time, made available for anyone to see.
“Chronicling a Crisis,” written and directed by Amos Kollek, opens on Friday, May 4 at the Quad Cinema (34 W. 13th St.). For information, call (212) 255-8800 or go to www.quadcinema.com.