Actress Carol Kane has played all manner of colorful characters, but her role as music teacher Carla in Nathan Silver’s “Between the Temples,” playing in competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is one that connected to a deep part of her Jewish identity.
“It’s important to stand up and be proud of who you are,” Kane said during a discussion with TheWrap’s Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman at TheWrap’s Sundance interview studio. “Especially right now with the world in such chaos and pain. I don’t think you can crawl into a hole and hide. You have to claim who you are. You can’t control what the response to that will be.”
“Between the Temples” follows a cantor named Ben (Jason Schwartzman) who has a crisis of faith. He reconnects with his gradeschool music teacher, played by Kane, who is training to have her Bat Mitzvah. Director and co-writer Nathan Silver describes it as a “screwball comedy” that was initially inspired by his discovery that his own mother was taking classes to have her Bat Mitzvah. “She never got her Bat Mitzvah,” he said. Producer Adam Kersh told him it was worth turning into a feature film.
Silver wrote the role for Schwarztman, who described the filming as a collaborative experience. In a way, that sense of unity comes off on-screen in the dynamic between Ben and Carla. “He’s in mourning. He’s a widower,” said Schwartzman. “It’s one bad step behind the other. He can’t find a way out and it’s hard to help other people if you can’t really help yourself.”
Kane and Schwartzman didn’t know each other prior to making “Between the Temples” but as Kane laid out the two ended up having a strong working relationship. “I develop a tremendous amount of faith in him [Schwartzman] as the story unfolds,” Kane said. “I think I would have read the phonebook with Jason. I just love him so much, I think he’s brilliant. I’ve always been mesmerized by his gifts.”
But Kane was leery about taking on the role because of how Silver would direct the cast, allowing them to have opportunities for improv. There wasn’t a cut-and-dry script but often her and others would be presented with scene breakdowns. “There’s suggestions in every scene of the way the dialogue will go but there’s also freedom to build on that or reduce that,” she said. “Nathan makes room for us to bring a lot of our selves.”
“Before we would shoot…there would be script pages, but we’d work through it with the actors and refine,” Silver said. He wanted to evoke the lively and madcap quality of classic screwball comedies. “It’s infused with chaos and I think that was necessary to the story,” he said.
As specific as the movie is to the Jewish experience, everyone involved with the project noted its universality. “The movie is not necessarily about a specific religion,” said Robert Smigel who plays Rabbi Bruce in the film. He compared the movie’s themes and overall appeal to Nia Vardalos’ 2002 comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Audiences didn’t have to be Greek to fall in love with it.
“Our movie is really about these people in this stage of feeling loss and questioning things, which I think everybody can understand,” said Schwartzman. “It’s just about humanity and patience and being there for each other to make certain breakthroughs.”
“Between the Temples” is a sales title at Sundance.
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