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In the borderland between fiction and truth

Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story
Regissør: Stephane Kaas

Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story is as playful as the man it portrays. 


The documentary about Etgar Keret has an unusual approach to an unusual writer. With a mix of interviews, fiction scenes and animation, is Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story no typical biographical film. Instead, it is a very entertaining portrait that shows Keret's lively personality, and depicts the processes in his mind as stories come into being.

Common fascination

Director Stephen Kaas and screenwriter Rutger Lemm have known each other since school days, and both have grown up with Keret's stories. When, fifteen years later, they decided to make this documentary about him, the result bears witness to both their enthusiasm and love for Keret's work. The Israeli author appears as a fabulous storyteller with a personality larger than life. His stories are surreal, and with surprising twists and turns, they make you wonder and reflect. They pretend to describe something extraterrestrial – yet they are about life as we know it.

Parallel worlds

The film is a continuous conversation with Keret and people who are important in his life. It gives a glimpse into his unusual character, his past, his life in Tel Aviv and his unique ability to see the extraordinary and the surreal in the most ordinary moments. 

His half-true stories give you the feeling that everything is magical and possible.

Keret began writing during a difficult time in life. While serving in the military, a friend of hiss shot himself in the office where they both served as part of the military service. This tragedy changed somewhat in Keret, and shortly after the tragic event he wrote his first short story. 

The story was titled "Pipelines" – and is a story of a man working in a pipeline plant. There, one day he starts playing with marbles, and sends them down into the pipes to watch them roll out at the other end. Then he begins to experiment and builds even more sophisticated pipes – until he discovers one day that the marbles mysteriously disappear in one of the pipes. Then he decides to build a similar, but larger pipe, designed for himself – so that he too can disappear. When he finally comes out the other end, he is in a parallel world.

An innate narrator

Keret has the ability to make parallel worlds in all its stories and anecdotes. And it seems like he never runs out of stories. He is also very convincing, and we get the impression that he lives the stories he tells. For him, this is a way of being present in life and that gives life to its meaning. Keret is an innate storyteller, and his reality appears somewhat fluid. Precise accounts of events are instead presented as fabulous interpretations and stories that grab the audience. Is Keret a liar? That's one of the questions that pops up in the movie. His friends warmly agree that he is just that. But what Keret really does is to stretch the boundary between reality and fiction. He sees the magic and the extraordinary in daily life – to finally find a meaning with life and take it a little less seriously.

The Israeli author appears as a fabulous storyteller with a personality larger than life.

If Keret succeeds in deceiving you – well, then you will be glad to have been led behind the light. His world is basically a game – it's about curiosity and exploration. The caretaker, now in the 50 years, found a way to remain a little boy in a troubled world and continue life with the unstoppable tensions in Israel. Couldn't we all want to learn this secret? As we gain an insight into his inner world and reflections on what it means to be human and live life to the full, Keret's sensitivity is also evident in the film. 

Inspires and fascinates

How much is reality, and how much is fiction in Keret's stories? This remains an open question. Nevertheless, this seems less important. If the choice is between the truth, or believing in his stories, the choice is easy; his half-true stories give you the feeling that everything is magical and possible. We all need to believe that life is more than raw realism. This makes the portrait of Etgar Keret an uplifting experience. It is a movie that leaves you inspired and with a desire for more. If you have never read his stories before, you will surely run to the bookstore as soon as the movie is over. 

Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Nita is a freelance journalist and critic for Ny Tid.

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