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‘Scenes From a Marriage’ is Hagai Levi’s most personal HBO series yet

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JTA — Of all the people to interview on Rosh Hashanah, the Israeli writer and director Hagai Levi is especially fitting.

A respected creator in Israeli and American TV, he is known for shows that dramatize two people talking in a room, much as we were doing ourselves, albeit over Zoom. HBO’s “In Treatment,” for example, the American version of his Israeli show “BeTipul,” is comprised entirely of sessions between therapist and patient. “Scenes From a Marriage,” Levi’s latest for HBO and another two-hander, solidifies him as an expert of the televised intimacy piece.

When I caught him for our own tête-à-tête, I imagined he would be in Israel celebrating the Jewish New Year. After wishing each other a “shanah tovah,” (happy new year) he held up his laptop to reveal his view of a boat floating down a green canal. He was in Venice for the premiere of “Scenes From a Marriage,” a remake of Ingmar Bergman’s classic 1973 Swedish miniseries about the vicissitudes of a couple’s relationship in the years surrounding their divorce. The series is a foundational reference for artists interested in depicting intimate relationships, so it’s no wonder that it’s a favorite of Levi’s. When Levi referred to it as a primary inspiration for “BeTipul,” Daniel Bergman, the director’s son, called on him to adapt it.

Levi, 58, had just spent three hectic days celebrating the miniseries’ premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, the scene of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain’s viral red carpet arm caress (they star as the series’ sizzling, tortured couple). He stayed to celebrate the Jewish holiday and attended synagogue with his children in the neighborhood still called the Venice Ghetto. His father’s family was in Italy for many generations, and he considers the country a second homeland. His father, Rabbi Joseph Levi, was born in Israel but moved back to Italy and served as the head rabbi of Florence for more than three decades.

“My Jewish Italian roots are very important to me. It’s an important part of my identity,” Levi said.

Levi speaks directly and thoughtfully in his Hebrew-accented English, without the Hollywood bluster that one might expect of a TV creator of his prominence who works so prolifically in both Israel and the States. In fact, Levi has resisted any pressure to move to Hollywood — perhaps in part because of his name. “Hagai” begins with the not particularly English-friendly “chet” sound, and when I opened the interview with “Hi Hagai,” he responded, “It’s so nice you can........

© The Times of Israel

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