Israel Horovitz debuts as a feature film director

26Sep14

Directs motion picture adaptation of his play “My Old Lady”

horovitzAdd yet another to the list of titles used to describe Wakefield, Massachusetts native Israel Horovitz: movie director. His film, My Old Lady, a major motion picture starring Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas, opened last week and is now playing at theaters around the area including Hollywood Hits in Danvers.

Horovitz, who graduated from Wakefield High School in 1956, is best known as a playwright with more than 70 plays to his credit, many of which have been translated and performed worldwide. My Old Lady is based on one of his plays, and Horovitz wrote the adapted screenplay in addition to directing the movie.

Filmed on location in Paris, My Old Lady tells the story of a down-and-out middle-aged New Yorker, Mathias Gold (Kline) who has just inherited a Paris apartment from his estranged father. Upon his arrival to check out the apartment, he is stunned to find an old woman, Mathilde (Smith) and her protective daughter Chloe (Scott Thomas) living there.

Gold had used his last cent to buy the plane ticket to Paris, where he intended to sell the apartment and use the proceeds to keep himself afloat amid a sea of debt he’s managed to amass over the years and several divorces.

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There’s only one problem. The apartment is a “viager,” a unique French system of buying and selling properties whereby the seller remains in the sold property until his/her death. In this case, because his father had purchased the apartment under a viager agreement, Mathias will not actually get possession of the apartment until Mathilde dies. In addition, Gold must continue to make monthly payments to Matilde for the rest of her life.

Of course, there’s a twist. It seems that there was more than a landlord-tenant relationship between Matilde and Gold’s father, making for some interesting potential connections between the three main characters. Add Horovitz’s trademark blend of drama, humor and romance and you have a touching romantic drama about inheritance and past secrets coming home to roost.

Kline excels at playing glib, somewhat bumbling hard-luck cases like Gold. As Gold, he associates Paris with all that he despised about his largely absentee father, but as he learns more about both, we see his affection for the city – and his late father – grow.
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Smith is perfect as the refined old woman Mathilde, born in England but having lived most of her 92 years in Paris, teaching English. She combines a kindly spirit with a no-nonsense approach and startles Gold at first with her directness.

A019_A019_C026_10038I_0005.jpg“At my age, subtlety doesn’t interest me,” she informs her new landlord.

Gold’s guileless honesty eventually melts even the cold-as-ice Chloe as she learns more of his past and their shared personal histories.

Horovitz is held in high esteem in France and the playwright’s own love of Paris is evident throughout My Old Lady. There are plenty of exterior shots, but since the film is based on a stage play it’s not surprising that much of the action takes place inside the apartment. Francophiles might come away wishing Horovitz had shown us even more of the city he loves, but that’s a minor complaint.

The family-themed My Old Lady is also a Horovitz family affair. Israel Horovitz’s oldest daughter Rachael Horovitz serves as a producer and Horovitz’s youngest son, Oliver, was Kevin Kline’s stand-in.

Rachael Horovitz’s recent hits include HBO’s Emmy– and Golden Globe-winning Grey Gardens, starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, and Bennett Miller‘s Academy IsraelRachHorovitzOlliePhoto_2969Award-nominated Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. She says she was attracted to My Old Lady for several reasons, including its rich casting potential and Parisian setting, but also because it gave her an opportunity to work with her father, who she describes as “the most prepared director I’ve ever worked with.” Above all, she praises Horovitz père for his professionalism, sense of humor and grace under pressure, each one a boon for the intimate, familial-themed My Old Lady.

“There is real humanity in this film thanks to those factors,” she concludes. “Working with a family member is always a pleasure because there is the shorthand of communication you have with few others.”

Alert movie-goers will also notice that a sign outside a Parisian doctor’s office that Kline’s character visits reads “Dr. Horowitz,” a slight variation on the author’s name.

While this is Horovitz’s first turn at directing a feature film, he is no stranger to the movies. He directed the documentary Three Weeks After Paradise, about his own family’s experience living in New York City during and after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

He has also written screenplays for other Hollywood films, including: The Strawberry Statement (1970); Author! Author! (starring Al Pacino and Dyan Cannon); North Shore Fish (based on another of his plays and starring Tony Danza); Sunshine (starring Ralph Feinnes and Jenifer Weisz); and James Dean, a biopic starring James Franco.

My Old Lady is just the latest example of a Wakefield kid making good in the arts. But more importantly, it’s a damn good movie.

[This review originally appeared in the September 25, 2014 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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