Seven Minutes in Heaven, part drama, part thriller and part metaphysical mystery, tells the story of a woman one year after surviving a bus bombing, as she tries to put together the pieces of what happened that day. Its focus is never on politics or the bombing itself, but instead explores the human elements of surviving and moving on. Written and directed by Omri Givon, the movie was one of several Israeli films to play at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Heeb caught up with Givon and the film’s star, Reymonde Amsellem, to discuss the film.
How did you first find your way into this story?
Omri: When I started writing, I had an image about a girl whose boyfriend died in a car accident, some kind of horror film. One day there was this bombing on a bus in Jerusalem and there was a story about some graveyard where they take the busses. The girl from this horror movie jumped in my head into this graveyard, and I knew the story was about the girl dealing with a trauma, standing in front of this bus.
The first draft was a thriller. In the second, I started asking questions about her and it became more dramatic. I decided this movie was about her inside world, with all these illusions and flashbacks. I always thought about her emotional situation. In the end, most of the movie is about that, about life, love, death.
The character of Galia is not always exactly sympathetic.
Omri: We didn’t want the set-up to be that she has a very good life and everything is perfect, and then something happens. One thing that Reymonde gave to the film that I didn’t imagine, she gave her something very tough. Sometimes people want her to be a victim and weak. They want to love her and feel sorry for her, and Galia’s very like, “Don’t get close to me. I’m going to deal with it alone.” I felt a responsibility for Galia not to be a clichÃ©. She’s a real woman, and something happened to her. That doesn’t mean that she needs to be lovable or the perfect woman. We want her to be not politically correct and tough, and kind of a bitch.
What did you want to explore about Israel today?
Reymonde: Through the research, we started understanding that you can recover from terror, but you can’t be who you were. You have to invent a new you to keep going. There are people who are recovering, but you can’t compare who they are today to who they were before.
I really searched for women who had been through similar situations and asked them about their relationships, how they feel about their body. How is it when you get a compliment? How is when you’re walking down the street and everything is okay, but you feel like you’re a monster and everybody’s looking at you?
Survivor guilt is a very important theme in the film.
Reyomde: I didn’t meet anybody who’d been through that and didn’t have any kind of guilt. Everybody did. They remember faces of people they never met, and they appear in dreams and illusions. A lot of them have a lot of shame to talk about it. They don’t want people to know that they feel guilty, because you’re alive, you shouldn’t feel guilty, you should say thank you that you’re here. We did a lot of interviews with people who didn’t know each other, but had the same experience. It was very mystical to see that she was from Haifa, and someone else was from Jerusalem, and they’ve never met but are talking about the same thing.
The film never policizes the bombing. It’s much more about the healing afterwards. Why was it important to keep that the focus?
Omri: The most important thing is to see the after-effect. I was interested to find this girl a year later and see what’s happened. Even in Israel, you never hear about these stories. There is this label after something happens, "post-traumatic," but you don’t really understand what it is.
Did you ask survivors if they’ve gone back onto the bus?
Reyomde: Most of them really wanted to meet the paramedic that saved them or return and see the coffee shop that exploded. All of them said it took a long time to do it. It depends on their age. If the person is older, they did it more quickly. The younger people needed a long process to go back.
The pressure suit she wears for her burns is such a great image for the difference between living in the past versus the freedom of finally moving on.
Omri: This is also from the research. I didn’t know there is such a thing. When I met people with scars, the first thind they’d tell me is about this suit. For Reymonde, when you put it on, you’re in the character. It’s tight and people are very, very afraid to take it off.
Reyomde: It’s like a second skin. They all talk about it and were very afraid to let go of it. Even scenes when the audience can’t see it, it was important to me to still wear it.
Did the victims you spoke to ever mention anger about the bombing itself?
Omri: No. It was amazing. I spent hours with them, and we never talked about politics.
Reyomde: Or hate.
Omri: They are just dealing with their own life. They don’t give a damn about the prime minister. They don’t have hate or anger. Both of us were amazed by how those people just want to live. It’s so powerful. They’re very optimistic and strong. But not one word was said about being angry.
In Israel you can find a lot of people who were close to somebody affected by a bombing. The feeling on the street is that everybody’s living because of this, because life can end right now. They’re living in an aggressive way. You feel alive. It’s the opposite of what people think from outside Israel. Israelis must do everything now, and hurry. But everyone is in some way feeling the fear. You think more about the essence of life in some way.
I’m curious about how this film will play in the U.S. compared to Israel, because here these bombings are numbers on the news. It’s very easy outside of Israel to lose that perspective.
Omri: Politics makes people into numbers. In filmmaking and art, the human side is the essence. That’s what this movie is about. I was very surprised by the questions after the screenings at Tribeca. Maybe one or two were about the situation or terrorism, but most were about the relationships, the characters. I said, okay, people saw the movie. They didn’t see the subject. I know that if someone only read the one-liner, they’d think something else about it.