“It’s not a biopic,” Guy Nattiv, the director of the new film Golda told me when we spoke before the film’s premiere. “It’s not Gandhi.” To encompass the life of Israel’s sole female prime minister Golda Meir, including her origins in Kyiv and Milwaukee, her aliyah to Israel and her political rise, Nattiv joked he would need the budget for an eight-part miniseries. Instead the film focuses on the 19 days that would become Meir’s legacy: the 1973 Yom Kippur War. We talked about why he chose this time period, the modern reassessment of Golda Meir and what she would have thought about today’s Israeli government. Below is an excerpt of our conversation. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
What drew you to the project in the first place?
I am part of the 1973 generation. My mother ran with me to the shelter and my father fought in the war. I grew up on Golda stories and on Yom Kippur stories. There’s a song: “We are the children of ’73.” It’s kind of about me. It’s about my generation, and it is a direct look, a requiem, for Israel, and Golda in a way, because after this war, we were not the same country. We were different. So I wanted to get under this woman’s skin, especially in these 19 days that were fascinating to me.
Growing up, there was a narrative that Golda was somewhat to blame for the war. Is that something that you grew up with, and has directing this movie changed that for you in any way?
Absolutely. She was the scapegoat of this war. There was even a headline at the time that said: “She’s the reason for this. She’s to blame. It’s because of her.” She was the face of this debacle. She was the face of this failure. But ten years ago, some information about the war was declassified and that really changed the entire narrative. Secrets came out that painted Golda in a more nuanced light.
How do you think Golda being a woman played into the way that the public perceived her?
It’s hard because in 1973 there was an atmosphere of rampant misogyny in Israel that led to the perception that only men could control the world, and only men could lead the country. I think it contributed to her failures as a prime minister. I think that she was also not a part of the Zionist narrative. She was always an outsider because she was American and had an American accent. But she paved the way for a lot of great women, like Margaret Thatcher of the UK and Angela Merkel of Germany, who were inspired by her. She was the only female world leader at that time, the Iron Lady of Israel in a way.
But it’s never one thing. Golda’s story is also a tragedy because she didn’t make peace with Egypt, and she didn’t end up paving the way for other female prime ministers in Israel. Tzipi Livni was close, but it didn’t happen, and that’s a shame.
Why do you think there have been no other female prime ministers since her?
Because of that war, failure is attached to her name in so many ways. But also, Israel is a very male-centric, Middle Eastern country, and it will take time until we see another woman elected prime minister. Although personally, I believe in female leadership more than male leadership.
The film focuses on these 19 days and chooses not to give her backstory. Why?
What interests me is to hold a magnifying glass to these days of the war. It’s a specific look, like we saw in the films Downfall or Das Boot, or even Darkest Hour, when it’s really concentrated on one specific period in time. So whoever comes to this movie and expects a classical biopic will be disappointed, because it’s not that movie.
The movie has some marquee Israeli actors and also some A-list British and American actors. What was it like working with and across multiple cultures?
In terms of working with Israeli and non-Israeli actors together, it was wonderful, but I also think it’s a challenging thing because of the language differences. So for instance, when defense minister Moshe Dayan comes back from the famous helicopter flight, he has this panic attack in front of Golda. We had to shoot it for two days because it was hard for the actor (Israeli actor Rami Heuberger) and for many other actors in the film to perform in a language they do not speak natively.
We wanted to make Golda in English and not Hebrew, because we wanted to appeal to a broad audience. But it’s also hard for Israeli actors to get into this natural mode when speaking English, but I think they did a good job.
What do you believe Golda Meir would think about today’s Israeli government?
I think she would want to stay in her grave. I think that Israel is in its own Yom Kippur war right now. And I think that what I miss the most are leaders who take responsibility. You can believe them. They’re straight, they’re honest and Golda was one of those people. She, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, these leaders were humble. They were not after money. They didn’t care only for themselves. They took care of the country and the people. They were the people’s leaders. And what you see now is the polar opposite.
Golda believed in the judicial system. She put her trust in judges, in the high court. What we see now, it’s destroying the status quo that we had all those years, and I think it’s terrible. I see it. I went with my father to the demonstrations and I met other Yom Kippur war veterans, they’re demonstrating for the future of this country and not for the extreme vision of the government.