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Forest Dark
Author:Nicole Krauss

It was the location manager who’d invited him, and who now spoke rapidly over a second espresso while they waited for Yael to show up at the café in Ajami. Epstein had been awake since four that morning, and it had been days since he’d spoken to anyone. But the location manager, who wore a terse Mohawk to get around his receding hairline, and was skinny enough to be feeding an addiction but too affable to need it, spoke so voluminously into Epstein’s silence that nothing was required of him. Israeli filmmaking, he announced to Epstein, was at the pinnacle of its creativity. Until 2000, the great Israeli talent wasn’t making films. When Epstein asked what the great Israeli talent was doing before 2000, the location manager appeared stumped.

Half an hour passed, and Yael still had not arrived, so the location manager ordered a third espresso from the young waitress, took out his phone, and began to show his captive audience clips and stills of his work. Epstein studied a photograph of an old house in Jerusalem, its dusky, sunken living room crowded with books and oil paintings, a small walled garden visible from the window. There was nothing unusual about the room, he thought, and yet its elements all cohered into something unquestionably warm, intelligent, and inviting. The location manager had visited fifty houses before stumbling onto this one, he said. The moment he’d walked in, he’d known it was the place. Nothing had to be moved for the set, not a stitch of furniture. Even the little dog curled on the chair was perfect. But what a job to convince the owners! He’d had to come back four times, the last time with an obsolete part the couple needed for their anciently dripping faucet, which he’d procured from a plumber whose shop he’d once shot a scene in. That was what sealed the deal: a little copper circle that had eluded them for years. But as soon as he’d won them over, the next-door neighbor stuck out her foot. The old woman did everything in her power to get in the way of the filming. All day long she sat in her window and screamed at them, and refused to keep her cat inside. On the contrary, she’d deliberately let the cat out the moment the cameras began rolling. The scenes constantly had to be interrupted by this cantankerous woman, who threatened to drive the rattled director crazy. But he, Eran, had found a way. Had listened and listened, and slowly understood that the old woman was jealous, that like a child she felt left out, overlooked, and all he had to do was offer her a minuscule role as an extra for her to become instantly cooperative. Ten times they’d had to do the take of her being pushed down the sidewalk in a wheelchair he’d gotten from props, because every time she’d either smiled broadly into the camera or tried to squeeze in an improvised line. But in the end it had been more than worth it: from then on the old woman was quiet as could be, and guarded her cat as if it were a python that—God forbid it escaped—could devour her film whole. Yes, finding the right location was really the smaller part of his job, despite what you might think. The true essence of his work was in the management of the borders between this world and the one that the director was trying to create. Out of the present reality of houses and streets, furniture and weather, the director aimed to create another reality, and for however long the shot endured, it was up to him, Eran, to guard the borders between them. To make certain that nothing unwanted from the real world penetrated through to that other world, or in any way interrupted or threatened to dissolve its delicate conditions. And for this, one had to have a multitude of talents. But most of all one had to be skilled in dealing with people. After weeks of shooting came to an end, the location manager said, this skill had been so overused that all he wanted was to live like a hermit or misanthrope. And what do you do then? Epstein asked.

But at that moment Yael arrived, apologetic but serene, as if she had just stepped down out of a painting. If Epstein had no pressing desire to talk before, now he found again that in her presence he was nearly speechless. She had brought along Dan, the director, who was in his forties and had the small eyes and sharp protuberant nose of an animal that spent most of its time underground, forever seized by a frenzied desire to dig its way into the light. Epstein had met him before, and taken an immediate dislike to him. He had obvious designs on Yael. The thought of her in his tribally tattooed arms made Epstein want to cry.

The location manager launched excitedly into a description of the spot he’d discovered: some caves close to where the Dead Sea scrolls had been found, but far enough away from any archaeological site that they could shoot there without permits, and with a vista so untouched as to be purely biblical. The caves were incredible because of the way they were lit, with a hole above that brought in shafts of sunlight. It was entirely possible that David himself had hidden in them. At the very least, the Essenes had probably occupied them two thousand years ago, while preparing for the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness.

But the director and Yael, son of darkness and daughter of light, were in a low mood, and no cave, however authentic, could lift them out of it. That morning they’d received bad news: Neither Hot nor Yes had come through. On the basis of the synopsis and treatment she had written, Yael explained to Epstein, they’d gotten production grants from both the Jerusalem Film Fund and the Rubinstein Foundation. At first it had seemed like enough, but once they’d understood what sort of budget was required to really do the film right, they found themselves short of money. They’d hoped that one of the big cable companies would get behind the project, but neither had. Shooting was supposed to begin in two weeks, and if something else didn’t come through quickly, everything would have to be put on hold.

How much did they need? Epstein asked reflexively.