Natalie Portman

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Black Swan Actress Comes of Age as a Director

Israeli-American Natalie Portman, 35, has long been a darling of screens small and large. She’s also been a major Jewish icon, publicly celebrating her identity as a member of the tribe. This year, her exploration of what it means to be a Jew, as well as what it means to be an Israeli, extended into her work with the release of “A Time of Love and Darkness.” The film adaptation of the memoir by Israeli writer Amos Oz, in which the Oscar-winning actress stars, also marks her directorial debut.

The film is about Oz coming of age in British Mandate Palestine, and follows the conflicts of his home life as they reflect the larger conflicts in the formation of the state of Israel. Portman evocatively portrays Fania, Oz’s mother, whose deep disappointment in both her marriage and in the project of Israel speaks to experiences that many characterizations of the foundation of Israel tend to gloss over.

Portman has explained that Oz’s stories reminded her of the stories she heard about her father’s family, stating that the film centers on the question of “how much of the mythology is an accurate reflection of history, and how much storytelling is cemented by repetition.”

“A Time of Love and Darkness” depicts an emotionally honest experience of the rise of a nascent state and one of its most prized authors, as well as the conflict between expectation and reality — both on a personal and national level. Honoring Portman this year means valuing nuance in how we remember and retell Jewish history.

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