Film Explores Weight Issues In Israel

The new film "A Matter of Size" has been winning over audiences and critics alike as its been touring the film festival circuit. The feature film tells the story of Herzl, an overweight Israeli man who discovers sumo wrestling as a way to be more comfortable with his body. Screenwriter Danny Cohen Solal and actor Dvir Benedek, who plays the character Ah-ha-rohn, discuss “A Matter of Size” and its reflection on Israeli society.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

If you think about Israel, what comes to mind? The ongoing conflicts with its neighbors, to be sure, intense politics, innovations in agriculture and hi-tech, but what you might not know is that Israel has a thriving film scene. Films produced in Israel regularly make the rounds of the festival circuit and now a new film is creating buzz with an unlikely subject.

�A Matter of Size� tells the story of Herzl, an overweight Israeli cook who finds a job at a Japanese restaurant. He's had a lifelong shame about his weight until his Japanese coworkers see him not as a fat man, but as a powerful potential Sumo wrestler. Here they are trying to show him the ropes.

(Soundbite of movie, �A Matter of Size�)

Unidentified Man #1: Come on, take your shirt off.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #1: If you're not taking it off, you are not showing the Gyoji respect.

Unidentified Man #3: What's a Gyoji?

Unidentified Man #1: Referee.

MARTIN: The film is getting positive reviews on the circuit. It made its Washington, D.C. premiere recently and that gave us a chance to catch up with one of the screenwriters, Danny Cohen-Solal, along with Dvir Benedek, who plays the character, Aharon, in the film, one of the Sumo wrestlers. Welcome to you both. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. DVIR BENEDEK (Actor, �A Matter of Size�): Thank you for having us.

MARTIN: Danny, how on earth did you come up with this idea?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Israeli Sumo wrestlers.

Mr. DANNY COHEN-SOLAL (Screenwriter, �A Matter of Size�): Sharon Maymon, my colleague to writing, he called me one day with the idea. I remember I grabbed the phone and asked my wife, am I that fat?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: And then I...

Mr. BENEDEK: I felt the same when they approached me.

MARTIN: I think you're both quite handsome. I'll say it for the record.

Mr. BENEDEK: Oh, thank you.

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: We're both cunning.

MARTIN: I think you're both quite handsome.

Mr. BENEDEK: Thank you.

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: And we start writing. It took maybe three years, I believe, altogether.

MARTIN: Three years?

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: Yes, three years. In the end, the goal was to make a film that could be touching and funny.

MARTIN: It is touching and funny, but, you know, apart from the sort of the outrageous factor, that movie is - it is about wrestling and - but it is also about self respect. And I have to say, for me, one of the revelations was the whole subject of weight and the way people of size are apparently treated in Israel. I did not know this. Is weight that much of a taboo? Is it really a big deal to be a large size in Israel?

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: Not just in Israel, I think. There is some kind of a dictator of thin people. I cannot buy clothes anywhere. There is some place that sell clothes for big people and I'm not that big. But...

MARTIN: No, you're - in our sizing system, you would maybe an XL or perhaps a double XL. That's not, that's not...

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: In Israel, I'm three XL and it is tight.

Mr. BENEDEK: And I'm four.

MARTIN: You're four XL in Israel, really? Well, is it, Dvir, talk to me about this. As a performer as well, as a trained actor, has weight been an issue in your career?

Mr. BENEDEK: I guess weight was an issue in the beginning of my career. And I guess these days I'm not getting my parts because of my weight. But I got this part because of how big I was, because there is one big fund in Israel that supports cinema. And it's called the Israeli Film Fund and they didn't believe that we can find big enough actors to make this movie. Until we came to the room - did you know about it?

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: Yeah.

Mr. BENEDEK: We came to the room with our underwears. And then they believed it.

MARTIN: Don't feel the need to show me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: It's fine. I trust you. I believe you.

Mr. BENEDEK: No, not here.

MARTIN: But there is a scene in the film, not with you but with the character of Herzl where he has an encounter with a guy in a car. And the guy just feels free to just say anything to him about his - I mean, we're not talking about kids. Because you know, kids - we know kids say mean things to each other. But grown-ups saying mean things to other grown-ups about weight, does that happen? Do people actually feel that they can do that?

Mr. BENEDEK: Yeah, it's the same like grown-ups say mean things to other grown-ups when they're different, you know. And I think the movie is about being different. Not only being fat or not only being big. I think for me the movie is about being different and still accepting yourself and still dealing with the real problems in your life, not obsessionally with your weight.

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: Somehow people...

MARTIN: Danny?

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: ...feel free to say whatever they like to say. They know me, they don't know me - hey you, fat guy.

MARTIN: They do. People really say things to you on the street?

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: Of course. Of course. Hey, why are you walking like this? Come, come, come.

Mr. BENEDEK: About being different, yes, people, yes, allow themselves.

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: It's basically a metaphor of getting out of closet, accepting yourself. It's not just to be fat.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm speaking with Danny Cohen-Solal and Dvir Benedek. Danny is one of the screenwriters and Dvir Benedek is one of the stars in the new feature film �A Matter of Size.� It's a story about some handsome but large-sized Israelis who decide to form a Sumo wrestling team and find respect - self respect and respect from others in the process. One of the villains, Danny, of the film is this Weight Watchers coach. Boy, is she mean. Boy, is she mean.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: She's some kind of a terrorist with herself. You say emotional terrorist.

Mr. BENEDEK: I think this Weight Watchers guide is representing the public and there's something about the public that rates being fat as a disease and not as an addiction. And I guess, you know, it depends where you screen the movie. I went to Hong Kong and we screened it in Hong Kong and when you walk in the streets of Hong Kong you don't meet fat people, you know. They eat more rice than bread.

And they look at the movie from another perspection(ph). They just realize it's about being different, not about being fat. And in Israel, it's still about being fat. When people stop me in the street it's about being fat. And that's also good, I mean, people stop me and hug me and say, you made a change for me. I'm okay with myself. I accept myself. I get my stomach out sometimes.

MARTIN: I'm just sort of wondering, why do you think that is? Is it because of the sort of the military service, because people feel you have to be kind of ready to jump in at any time? Or is it because it's perceived as self-indulgent to be overweight? I'm just wondering why you think that is, that people are so intolerant of size?

Mr. BENEDEK: I don't know. It's a good question. Do you know, Danny?

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: I think that it's very well connected with the military service. The old situation generally...

Mr. BENEDEK: Would be being ready to move.

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: Yes. With us to be, unfortunately, somehow little violent maybe.

Mr. BENEDEK: And I don't know if that's only about being in Israeli, it's also about being a Jew, about the perception of being a Jew that you have to live quickly.

MARTIN: But you can't be soft. You can't be soft. You got to be ready to...

Mr. BENEDEK: And when you get fat, you're too relaxed and maybe you're having fun. And that's a big issue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. What about here in the U.S.? What reaction have you had here in the U.S. As you know, it's a - of course, in this country we've all kinds of opinions about size. On the one hand we have a kind of a size acceptance movement here - we have people who say, look, you have to like yourself as you are and tolerance, of course, is highly valued. On the other hand, as you know, the entertainment industry here is very rigorous in its aesthetic standards. There's a reality program called the �Biggest Loser.�

Mr. BENEDEK: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...where people compete to lose weight.

Mr. BENEDEK: Yeah, yes.

MARTIN: What do you...

Mr. BENEDEK: I have been offered to participate in such like the �Celebrity Biggest Loser� and I told them...

MARTIN: Oh, are you going to?

Mr. BENEDEK: What did you think, that I am going to make a diet and in front of all the country like dealing with my problem? It's not a problem. I'm fat and I know I'm fat and I'm doing diets from time to time. But it's not an issue in my life like the basic issue in my life. And that's what we're trying to say also in the movie.

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: Yes.

Mr. BENEDEK: Like, deal with your real problems. Deal with your relationships with your wives and the husbands, deal with your children, deal with your work, deal with your everything but don't obsessionally lose weight and do only that.

MARTIN: Well, it's wonderful to meet both of you.

Mr. BENEDEK: Thank you.

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: Thank you.

MARTIN: So what are you going to have for lunch?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: Steak

Mr. BENEDEK: Maybe a crab cake.

MARTIN: That's not kosher.

Mr. BENEDEK: Oh, no.

MARTIN: Okay, never mind. I'm sorry. I don't know why I stepped in it. I don't know why I was in it. I wasn't trying to be in it.

Mr. BENEDEK: But I'm a good Jew.

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: It's okay. It's not illegal to cheat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Danny Cohen-Solal is the co-screenwriter of the film �A Matter of Size� which played in this year's Jewish Film Festival here in Washington, D.C., It's currently touring the festival circuit. We were also joined by Dvir Benedek, who plays a starring role in the film. Gentlemen, thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Mr. BENEDEK: Thank you.

Mr. COHEN-SOLAL: Thank you.

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