It takes a talented filmmaker to emit the aura of early Roman Polanski films in his work. Evgeny Ruman, whose new work, The Man in the Wall, is showing at the Miami Jewish Film Festival this month, never intended for that to happen.
“I wasn’t thinking about Polanski specifically, although I admire him as a director and am really flattered by the comparison,” he admits about his film. “I can definitely understand where this comparison comes from, but honestly I wasn’t trying to imitate any director; I was just trying to do a film that interests me, in a way that interests me.
"I love unity of time and place; it gives a very intense feeling in films, a feeling I was really eager to achieve.”
The Man in the Wall is certainly an intense film, taking place in one night inside an apartment. When Shir is awoken from her rest, she discovers that her husband, Rami, has gone missing, leaving their dog alone outside their apartment. She has no clue where he might be, and with each individual who visits her home that night, she finds herself lost even deeper in the mystery.
What is interesting about the one-night, one-apartment premise is how Ruman executes it. The film is split into 12 sequences, each a long take of its own. “The decision was made when I was writing the script. It was important for me to show the episodes in real time, giving the audience a feeling that they are inside the apartment experiencing everything exactly the same as the characters."
The camera even extends itself to feeling like a living, breathing thing at one point early on, something he says was to “plant a hint about the mystery.” There’s plenty of mystery to go around in the film, with many of the people that Shir interacts with coming across as suspicious.
At first, it’s the police officers who immediately mistrust her. “I wasn’t trying to make a statement about the police, more likely to show the idea of authority and its clash with an individual,” the filmmaker says. “And how an individual handles authority when it acts in an unexpected way and suddenly from being a victim, you become a suspect.”
Certain events and interactions — with both people and objects — led Shir to have some out-of-this-world hallucinatory experiences. “I believe that for a person who’s experiencing a night like this, it’s a very thin line between realism and surrealism, since a big part of the story takes place in the character’s imagination, her thoughts and fears, which affect her actions,” Ruman says.
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“For me it’s all a part of the same atmosphere inside this apartment. I wasn’t interested showing a crazy person, rather a person who feels she’s going crazy.”
When it comes to his lead, the director says he felt an instant connection with Tamar Alkan. “Since the character [of Shir] is onscreen all the time, I wanted the audience to be fascinated with her, not knowing exactly what she holds inside, whether to like her or hate her — and that’s what I felt looking at Tamar’s audition. I felt she understands the character perfectly and was able to convey it, so I felt confident about her immediately. And I wasn’t disappointed — she brought so much to the role.”
That ambiguity of character also extends to the narrative that he brings to life in The Man in the Wall. “I wanted to leave [the ending] somewhat ambiguous, so there’s at least a possibility of a happy ending,” he says.