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Early on in Nathan Silver’s “Between the Temples,” Ben Gottlieb, a 40-ish widower played by Jason Schwartzman, walks into a bar in his tallit and skullcap with the intention of getting plastered.

Ben, a synagogue cantor in upstate New York who has lost the ability to praise the Lord through song since his wife died a year earlier, gets sloshed on mudslides, punched in the face and attracts the notice of another patron, Carla Kessler, a feisty septuagenarian played by Carol Kane. It is, as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Before long, Ben is giving Carla adult bat mitzvah lessons.

“Between the Temples,” showing at the Tribeca Festival, which runs Wednesday through June 16, is Silver’s ninth feature film. It first screened in January at the Sundance Film Festival, followed by its international premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. The film has already won praise for Silver’s direction and its performances. When the movie is released in U.S. theaters on Aug. 23, it may finally bring Silver and his kinetic, fiercely intelligent films wider recognition.

Silver’s career is one of the most singular in contemporary independent American filmmaking. Over the past 15 years, Silver, 41, has emerged as a chronicler of the uncomfortably intimate and as an auteur who is unafraid of emotional and narrative complexity. He directed his first feature film at 25. From 2012 to 2018, he worked at a frantic pace that recalled the relentless productivity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who made over 40 films before his death at 37. Not surprisingly, the German filmmaker is one of Silver’s cinematic idols.

The raw spontaneous energy and naturalism of Silver’s films result from close collaboration with his artistic team, including his writers and actors.

“My whole process has always been to work as much as I can with the people who are going to be playing these roles and the people who are on set and questioning everything,” he said in a recent video interview from his apartment in Crown Heights in Brooklyn.

“My mind alone means nothing but all of these minds, bumping up against each other will lead to sparks that can actually allow the movie to have some life to it,” he added as he drank a cup of coffee. A T-shirt with the portrait of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud poked out from under his beige cardigan. On the wall behind him hung a poster for Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s surrealist film “Un Chien Andalou.”

“It’s one of the first art films I can remember seeing,” he said, recalling that his father, who was a film school dropout, found it on VHS tape at the library. “I was 8 or 9, and it like scarred my brain. It’s imprinted on there.”

While majoring in dramatic writing as an undergraduate at New York University, Silver interned for the avant-garde playwright and director Richard Foreman, who bemoaned the fact that experimental theater was dead and encouraged Silver to think about making movies. Around the corner from Foreman’s theater, the Ontological-Hysteric, was a branch of Kim’s Video, a cult rental place, where Silver got his hands on the films that his mentor recommended, including Fassbinder’s “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Teorema.”

Beyond guiding him to great cinema, Foreman taught him “never to be precious” about making art, even if it meant scrapping everything and starting over. According to Silver, it was a shocking lesson to learn “but I was also just heartened by the fact that you could throw things out and recreate things and, you know, basically from the rubble of one version you could build the next version.”

Silver’s intensely collaborative ethos and his flexible approach toward creating are hallmarks of the microbudget (often crowdfunded) films he made with first-time performers earlier in his career as well his more recent and larger-scale projects.

“It was to Nathan’s credit that he can keep the madness intact, even with more resources and name performers,” C. Mason Wells, who wrote “Between the Temple” with Silver, said of the atmosphere on set. In a video interview, Wells, who collaborated with the director on “Thirst Street” (2017) and “The Great Pretender” (2018), said the new film’s cast, which also includes Dolly de Leon, Caroline Aaron, Robert Smigel and Madeline Weinstein, was committed to Silver’s intensive approach.

“We’re not interested in working with actors who just want to be given lines of dialogue and recite them and go home for the day,” he said. “We want people who are going to argue with us about the script and the character and question our choices, because that’s going to make the work stronger.”

Silver and Wells wrote the character of Ben with Schwartzman in mind. Silver said that figuring out who should play Carla was more challenging. The solution came to him during his honeymoon.

“I had Covid and I woke up from, like, a feverish sleep and I thought, Carol Kane,” Silver recalled. He shared his epiphany with his producers and Wells, who thought it was a terrific idea. “She was always there right in front of us and we were just, like, looking past her.”

Wells said that Schwartzman, a musician as well as an actor, knew how to “move in and out with the notes in a character” and that Kane discussed working with John Cassavetes (another one of Silver’s heroes) during the shoot.

“It’s about choosing those right actors who want to get involved with a process that is this volatile,” Wells added.

“Between the Temples” is Silver’s fourth consecutive feature film to play the Tribeca Festival. For Adam Kersh, one of the film’s producers, having it screen at the downtown event feels like coming full circle. In 2018, when “The Great Pretender” had its world premiere at Tribeca, Kersh met Silver at the film’s after-party. Silver told him about a documentary series he was working on about his mother, Cindy Silver, who often appears in her son’s films and was, at the time, studying for a late-in-life bat mitzvah.

“When he said that he was making this docu-series, immediately I’m like, I think this is a fiction film,” Kersh said in a video interview. Over the next year he and Silver developed the basic plot structure of “Between the Temples” before securing development funding and involving Wells. “It all goes back to Tribeca,” Kersh added.

It is too early to tell whether “Between the Temples,” which was picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics shortly after its Sundance premiere, will prove a commercial breakthrough for the director. Silver, who’s currently working on a new script, said that while filmmaking was an undertaking where “everything is always falling apart at all times,” he was grateful that new opportunities, including writing gigs, had recently come his way.

“I want to make like grand, lush melodramas and comedies and in order to do that I need budgets,” he said. “And so that’s where I’ve been looking.”

“I’m like a dung beetle pushing my dung in that direction,” he added with a laugh.



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