On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel during the holiest days of Judaism. The Yom Kippur War was an existential threat to Israel’s survival. Golda recounts Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s defense of her country and personal struggles at a pivotal moment in history. She commanded a fierce defense and counterattack while suffering from lymphoma. Helen Mirren gives an astounding performance as a chronically ill, elderly woman surrounded by generals who desperately needed her leadership.
Oscar-winning Israeli director Guy Nattiv (Skin) “changed the narrative” of the film to tell Golda’s story. The script was originally “80% war.” Mirren was “already attached” when he was pitched for the “open assignment.” Nattiv wanted “to do a war without a single drop of blood” that was “80% Golda.” Mirren “was on the same page” with doing a character piece than “just a war movie.” Golda was “a wreck physically” but refused to “make a deal.” She knew Israel’s enemies wanted to “decimate us.”
Liev Schreiber co-stars as US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Nattiv was “overwhelmed” watching “two geniuses sitting in front of each other.” He just “let them go” as the “NBA players of cinema.”
Nattiv spoke proudly about “the older generation” that “took care of the country more than themselves.” He’s deeply critical of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “corrupt and selfish” efforts to remake Israel’s judiciary. He protested in the streets with his father and veterans of the Yom Kippur War. Nattiv lamented “what we’re doing to ourselves” but finds “a sliver of hope” in Israel’s citizens fighting a “fascist” current regime. Read on for Guy Nattiv’s full interview with MovieWeb.
Helen Mirren Astounds as Golda Meir
MovieWeb: Helen Mirren is one of the greatest actresses of the modern era. She’s fantastic in the film. Talk about casting her as Golda Meir.
Guy Nattiv: Okay, so when I joined this project, Helen was already attached. It was kind of an open assignment for directors. I came and I did my pitch. The script was basically 80% about the war. I wanted to change the narrative. I said, as an Israeli who was born into this war, I want to tell the story of Golda. I want to make it 80% Golda and 20% war.
Guy Nattiv: I also wanted to do a war film without a single drop of blood. Everything that we experience is via sound or drones. I think that after a month, they came back to me with, “Okay, we love your pitch. What do you think about Helen as Golda?” I said, “She’s one of the best actress of our times.” They told me that Gideon Meir, her grandson, was thinking about her first to play his grandmother.
“They sent Helen the script. Then we met in the pandemic at my home in LA. We sat for three hours and just spoke, and spoke, and spoke. She told me that when she was 29, she volunteered in a kibbutz in Israel, picking tomatoes, hitchhiking from north to south. She had a Jewish boyfriend, and she already portrayed Jewish women before like Golda, in The Debt. I felt that I’m speaking to my mom. I felt like I’m speaking to someone from my own tribe. She felt to me like she could totally go there. Then we dove into it. She was on the same page with me about telling the story of an older woman, and to do kind of a character piece rather than just a war movie. That’s what we did.”
MW: You have this woman surrounded by military generals and taking control. Israel is facing an existential threat. She’s going through cancer treatments. She’s dealing with lymphoma. There are brilliant scenes of her going through the morgue to get treated. How accurate are they?
Guy Nattiv: She was a sick woman her entire life. But towards the end of her days, it became so mean. Her feet and legs were swollen. She had back problems. She was just a wreck physically. Now mentally, she started to be a wreck when the war started. Don’t forget, this is a country 30 years after the Holocaust. So all those people basically either came from the Holocaust, or were first generation survivors. So you walk with the sense of, “Oh, they’re going to decimate us again. They’re going to diminish us.”
Guy Nattiv: She was refusing everybody who wants to deal and make peace. She said, “No, he wants to kill us. He wants to delete us.” Sickness was not only the physical aspect, it was also mental. She felt prosecuted. She felt like this little girl hiding in the cellar. And although she said she’s not, she was terrified.
Liev Schreiber as Henry Kissinger
MW: What was the best and worst day for you as director of Golda?
Guy Nattiv: The worst day was when I was sick. I had pneumonia. I came to set and I tried to hide it. I tried to play like business as usual. I was in front of the monitor, hardly sustaining, trying to make it through the day, and suddenly I feel this kind of soft hand on my shoulder.
“I look up, and I see Golda. ‘I see that you’re sick. You’re not yourself. Can I bring you my assistant? Can she make you tea? Can she bring you soup? We need you today. We need you to feel strong.’ I was like, how does she know that? How does Helen know that I’m feeling bad when everyone else does not? I didn’t even tell it to my personal assistant. Anyway, she saw me. It was not an easy day for me to go through. But I made it through her, through Helen.”
Guy Nattiv: The best day was when I saw two geniuses sitting in front of each other. Liev Schreiber and Helen Mirren just go at it. I was just in front of the door. I don’t have to say anything, just let them play. Let them go. These people are so good. They’re like the NBA players of cinema. I was overwhelmed. That was just two days of shooting with Helen and Liev.
Guy Nattiv on the State of Israel
MW: You’re Israeli and telling a very personal story. How is the film being received by your compatriots? How has it been received in Israel?
Guy Nattiv: In Israel, it was very emotional. We screened it in front of 6,000 people in an open amphitheater at the Jerusalem Film Festival. A lot of them were veterans. Golda’s family came, Helen, and Oliver Stone was there. It was a very, very emotional screening. The film opens on Friday in Israel. So we’ll see what happens, but people are really, really emotional.
“They miss the older generation. They took care of the country more than themselves. Unlike what we see now with Benjamin Netanyahu, so corrupt and selfish. Thinking about his own self, rather than the country and the people. People miss Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Menachem Begin, [David] Ben-Gurion, you know, these leaders, and one of them is Golda.”
MW: Israel is facing this internal conflict with Netanyahu trying to reshape the judiciary. How can Israeli citizens deal with what’s happening?
Guy Nattiv: Like we deal with the right-wing and with the fascists here. We go out to the street. We protest. That’s what I did with my dad, and all my people, and veterans from the war. We went to the streets and protested against Bibi, against this crazy fascist government. I’m not even talking about the Palestinian side that needs to be addressed. You know what I mean? This is like what we’re doing to ourselves, within. I guess that you can find a sliver of hope from the people that really care and are really fighting this regime.
Guy Nattiv: The left is going out to the streets in Israel and fighting the good fight. I really hope that the High Court will block Bibi. Tell him, “This is it. You cannot do anything more than what you did. You’re blocked.” I really hope that he will approve and accept the ruling of the High Court, because that’s what they’re going to do. Otherwise, you see the war, that 1973 debacle, and the blindness of these people, is a full circle to what we see today.
Golda will be released theatrically on August 25th from Bleecker Street.