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Love Is Weird and Wonderful in “Between the Temples“

PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 19: Jason Schwartzman and Carol Kane attend the 2024 Sundance Film Festival “Between the Temples” premiere at the Library Center Theatre on January 19, 2024, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Michael Hurcomb/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)

By Lucy Spicer

“This is only my 14th time submitting to this Festival,” says Nathan Silver, director and co-writer of Between the Temples, which premiered January 19 at the Library Center Theatre in Park City, Utah. “They finally broke their annual tradition of rejecting my movies. So I wanna thank you, Sundance, for making one of my dreams come true.” 

Silver also had dreams of working with Carol Kane, Jason Schwartzman, and Robert Smigel. Lucky for him, they all agreed to be in this unconventional comedy, which screens in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. 

Between the Temples finds Ben (Jason Schwartzman) at what may be his lowest. He’s back living with his moms, he’s still wading through grief from a recent loss, and his singing voice has suddenly disappeared. That last part wouldn’t matter so much if he weren’t the cantor at his synagogue. When Ben unexpectedly reconnects with Carla, his grade school music teacher, his life starts stitching itself back together as he works with her to achieve her dream of having a bat mitzvah.

The bond that grows between Ben and Carla is simultaneously sweet and confusing — perhaps by design. “Maybe the love between them can’t be defined or pigeonholed,” says Silver. “Chris [Wells] and I talked for months and months about what their love was, and then with the actors, tons of Zooms about what their relationship was. And I think what interests me in movies is when you feel something, but you can’t put your finger on it, and it leaves you kind of questioning what you just felt.”  

Silver and co-writer Wells’ strange and funny script is only made funnier by the way the film’s impeccable cast deliver their lines. While the part of Ben was written for Schwartzman, the Carol character required a bit of mulling over. “We weren’t quite sure who was going to play Carla,” recalls Silver at the film’s post-premiere Q&A. “I remember at one point, right after I got married, I suddenly jumped up in bed, and I was like, ‘Carol Kane! That’s Carla!’ And I texted everyone excitedly from abroad, and they were like, ‘Duh, how did we not think of this beforehand?’ It was a natural thing.”

“What I like about Carla is that she is brave. Maybe this is gonna sound odd, but I’m not sure that she’s particularly courageous. I think she’s very brave,” says Kane about her character. “And she’s going for her dream, even though she’s temporarily sort of waylaid by the dismissiveness of her son. But I think that she’s inspired by the loving faith of Ben, and he opens her life, and, I guess, vice versa.”

Perhaps the most memorable scene in the piece takes place at a Shabbat dinner near the end of the film, and the audience is abuzz with excitement when it’s brought up during the Q&A. “A lot of the movie was very scripted, and it got looser as we would go through takes and we would find the scene as we were shooting,” says Silver. “But Shabbat definitely was a combination of three versions of the scene, so all of the actors were confused as to what was going to happen.” That intentional chaos, says Silver, caused a desired sense of tension. 

But the inflammatory game of telephone that brings everything to a head was all Schwartzman’s idea.

“It took two nights to shoot,” adds Silver. “Two cameras, two nights, lots of film. And three weeks to edit. It used to be 25 minutes long.”