All the great cinematic love stories have a fantastic meeting story, right? A smoky bar, a park, on a subway — but how about a love story that begins in the bathtub? That’s what happens in Veronica Kedar’s feature film, Joe + Belle, where drug dealer Joe (played by Kedar, who also co-wrote the film with Stav J. Davis) finds that a suicidal Belle (Sivan Levy) has not only broken into her home but refuses to leave the confines of her empty bathtub unless she gives her a reason to not off herself. What happens next is an admittedly Thelma and Louise-inspired adventure through the dangerous streets of Tel Aviv where unexpected love blossoms in the midst of war and danger.
AfterEllen.com talked to Kedar shortly after Joe + Belle screened in Los Angeles at Outfest and found out how the story came to be, why Kedar cast herself to play Joe and how the iconic roles played by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis helped shape this Israeli-based film.
Veronica with producer Amir Fishman
AfterEllen.com: Where did the kernel of the story for Joe + Belle come from?
Veronica Kedar: When I was studying film in Israel, we had a lot of classes where we had to write short scenes and I wrote a scene about someone coming home and finding a girl in her bathtub and she wouldn’t leave….
AE: Which happens all the time, right?
VK: [laughs] Yeah, of course! And she refuses to leave and says she’s going to kill herself unless she gives her a reason to live. When I finished film school, I came back to that scene and decided to develop a feature-length film and that’s how it started. I was looking for something simple that would not take a lot of money to shoot and it could happen in one place and was character driven and that’s how it became a film.
AE: Were the two leads always lesbian characters?
VK: They were strangers [in the short scene]. They weren’t even a couple but I wanted to make a romantic comedy so they had to fall in love so eventually they became lesbians.
AE: As far as sexuality goes, Joe and Belle are at different places of where they are in accepting their sexuality. Can you talk about that part of the story?
VK: I think in lesbian film there are a lot of coming out films and I wanted to do something that’s a bit different. Joe’s not even thinking about girls but she just meets this girl that drives her mad and she falls in love with her. It just happens. It’s not like such a big deal. She doesn’t call the parents in the movie or anything like that. It’s just something that happens in part of the story.
AE: Joe and Belle don’t necessarily do nice things in this movie so what were the challenges in making sure they were still likable?
VK: It was a challenge to me. Every time I write something I find myself in the position where I’m showing someone the screenplay and they say “Unless they’re really likeable it won’t work.” These people kill people — and I did a short film about rapists — so I usually try to pick people who are ones you normally wouldn’t like and take charming people and let them make mistakes that we can identify with. It is a challenge, yes.
AE: Was the movie always going to be set in Tel Aviv or did you think of anywhere else?
VK: I shot it there because I’m from Tel Aviv and I know the city well and I know how to get real locations without a budget but we also shot in Sderot (where rocket attacks happen frequently), which is the city that we talk about in the movie, and it was very important for me to shoot in that city. I had heard about it when I was in film school and I’ve had friends who studied film there who lived through the bombing. When they would make movies, they’d know the whole day could go wrong because an alarm could go off and they could run off in a bombing. So I had to be ready for bombings and we might have to go into shelters.
AE: One of my favorite parts of the movie is that bombing crisis pushes Joe and Belle into a bathroom for a nice, hot sex scene but it’s very much like worlds colliding, right? The violence is all so close to this passion happening between them.
VK: I was looking for where to put the sex scene and I didn’t want them to be together before the bombings and then I thought the alarm would go off and you’re scared and you don’t have anyone to hold onto so that was the perfect place for them to make love.
AE: How are gay characters and stories received in Israel? How is it compared to the US?
VK: There are films that have small gay characters but I think the place we are now [in Israel] is the place where Billy Crystal was in Soap (in 1977), where people are starting to like it but it’s pretty new. This is the first feature film that has lesbians as main characters in Israel. There’s no movie there like that. There was one movie where two women touched each other’s back and that was the closest thing for lesbians in Israeli feature films. There are a lot of short lesbian films but not feature. So, in Tel Aviv, it’s very acceptable to be on the street with your boyfriend or girlfriend but in film it’s not really there yet. We’re a very, very slow country and we don’t understand that this needs to be talked about and hopefully this film will make a change.
AE: Has Joe + Belle played there yet?
VK: The film did play in one festival, Cinema South International Festival there and it won an award there [Best Alternative Film] and it’s going to be theatrically released in August in Tel Aviv. I hope it does well. You can’t tell because there hasn’t been a movie like this there and it’s very hard to get indie films out there theatrically because of the distribution deals. The distribution opportunities there are really difficult when you don’t have a big studio behind you and I don’t.
AE: So I can call you a trailblazer?
VK: Yes. [laughs]
AE: Was it a challenge to get the casting together for Joe + Belle?
VK: I couldn’t explain the character to myself and I didn’t know how to explain Joe to an actress so I just decided to play her myself. As for Belle, I auditioned Sivan and she was pretty amazing. When we played together, there was this amazing chemistry. Abigail (played by Romi Aboulafia) is a good friend of mine.
AE: The quote at the beginning of the movie – “When love is not madness, it is not love” – where did the come from?
VK: I wanted to begin the movie with a quote that would set up the audience in thinking “That’s a good one” so I looked at quotes on love on Google and I just went over 200 of them and I saw that one and I thought that’s a good one. I also wanted to take a quote from Thelma and Louise. I was looking for something that would match and then I found that one but it was just from a Google search.
AE: You mentioned Thelma and Louise. Was that film an inspiration for you since there are some similar themes going on in your movie?
VK: Yes, Thelma and Louise is one of my favorite films. It’s also, not just the film. I always liked the film and later on I read about its place in general history and it was the first time two main characters were women and all the guys are the bad guys and the whole story behind it like the story with the script and the woman who wrote the script [Callie Khouri] and how she got [director] Ridley Scott. That film became more and more important to me over the years and when I reread my short scene with Joe + Belle, I decided to put them on the same path as Thelma and Louise as runaways.
AE: As a filmmaker, do you have an issue with your film being labeled a gay film?
VK: I think it might be important when you want to market something or when you’re just getting started and it’s much easier to market your film when you’re LGBT because there’s such an open market and such an accepting market and so many opportunities like Outfest. I mean, amazing HBO people are here and you meet everyone; the top group of the business. If I had a regular movie, I wouldn’t have the chance to do this. I don’t define my movie as a lesbian movie; I don’t think that’s the main thing about my movie.
My movie is, first of all, my first feature film and that’s how I define it. After that, it’s an indie film which I did on my own, self-produced, acted, directed. Then, later, later down the line you can call it a lesbian film because the two girls who kill someone and then run away happen to fall in love. I’m proud of making a movie on my own, against all odds, in a country that really didn’t want to give me the chance to do that.
For more on Joe + Belle, visit the film’s Facebook page or the website joeandbelle.com.