The Jewish Film Institute is proud to present Couscous, Hand Rolled, With Olives as our online short for the month of January 2024.
In Couscous, Hand Rolled, With Olives, directed by Yaari Nadav Tal, a young Jewish man tries to escape from the bounds of the two worlds that he lives in over one Shabbat dinner with his punk girlfriend and his traditional father.
Jewish Film Institute: Music is an important avenue for the characters to express themselves in the film. How was that interwoven into the fabric of the film?
Yaari Nadav Tal: I have always felt the most warmth and the most intimately connected with people through music. I wanted to create, then interrupt, a shared connection through music as a way of showing both warmth and distance. The role of music in the film is specifically to express this uneasy tension. Ash’s ultimate fantasy — a world where everyone literally sings along in harmony — is expressed as cold, because he knows that it just can’t happen.
JFI: Tensions rise because of identity and cultural differences. Can you speak more about these themes in your work?
YNT: I believe that we live in a society that has been constructed for us: being a part of a group means that you do and believe X. I tend to write characters who don’t know the specifics of these constructions, but feel themselves rubbing against them and acting in response to them. Ash pushes Rosie to eat something she doesn’t like because it’s what’s expected of him, and of her. Under the unexpressed expectations of gender and nationality, he acts like a person that he ultimately doesn’t want to be.
JFI: How did you find your cast and crew? What kind of working environment did you create with them?
YNT: I just hired my friends who I had worked with before on smaller scale projects because I really wanted to collaborate and create community on set. Film sets can be so stressful and feel so high stakes, and I wanted to create the opposite of that. Of course there was stress, but being with people I trusted made work so much easier. My favorite environments are those that feel communicative, collaborative, and playful.
About the Filmmaker: Yaari Nadav Tal is a writer-director-producer, born and raised in Queens, NY. He graduated with an MFA in Film from the City College of New York, where he received the 2021 Bert Saperstein Communications Scholarship. Yaari has lived many lives: he holds a B.A. in Political Science from George Washington University, with minors in Jazz Studies and History. Yaari also plays jazz piano and composes. He performs standup and improv comedy, and has received coverage in Vulture magazine.
About JFI Online Shorts: JFI Online Shorts features one new short film each month from emerging and established filmmakers. Since 2009, JFI has showcased over 100 online shorts and garnered worldwide views over 2 million on the JFI Youtube channel. Learn more at www.jfi.org.