(photo credit: Courtesy)
Suspense is not the same as dread, as Pauline Kael, the late New Yorker magazine film critic, pointed out. Nitzan Giladi’s Wedding Doll brought this distinction to my mind, as it tells the story of a Hagit (Moran Rosenblatt), a beautiful young woman with great artistic talent and a mild mental disability, who lives a circumscribed life in Mitzpe Ramon.
Her mother (Assi Levy) watches her like a hawk, locking her daughter in because she worries so much.
I found myself sick with dread throughout much of the movie because Hagit is involved in a love affair with Omri (Roy Assaf), the son of her boss, that is part real and part fantasy, and is menaced by Omri’s thuggish friends. Her life is tough, and it seems that danger lurks around every corner.
I imagine that director Giladi intended this movie to show some hard truths about how difficult life can be for the disabled. The movie also plays as if he intended to highlight the poetic contrast between Hagit’s artistic talent — she fills her room with miniature bridal dolls she fashions out of the very symbolic toilet paper that the factory she works at manufactures — and the grim reality of her daily life, where she has no friends, and her mother has only worries and fear about her future — no hope.
In spite of the director’s good intentions, and although Rosenblatt gives a wonderful, very credible performance in the leading role (for which she won the Ophir Award for Best Actress this year), the movie doesn’t quite work. Dreading that a character who doesn’t understand a great deal about the motivations of those around her will be gang raped or have her heart broken by a callous, immature man isn’t the same as being engrossed in a story.
There were moments when the tension broke, and I had time to wonder about the existence of a toilet paper factory in the Negev that seems to have only three or four employees.
Omri is meant to be courageous and not a total idiot when he argues with his father, who wants to cut their losses and close down the factory, insisting that the father should invest more in the business. Aren’t most goods like toilet paper mass produced abroad, in places such as China? In any case, an extremely skilled production design team created a beautiful (if overly ironic) dress for Hagit, made from a hoop and rolls of toilet paper. All her artwork, down to the smallest toilet-paper bridal doll, is intricately rendered. But as the mother of a teenager with autism, I find myself once again writing about a film in which — like last year’s Next to Her — a disabled young person is used for symbolic purposes. The fact that there are homes and workplaces throughout Israel that give support to people with the kind of special needs Hagit has doesn’t interest filmmakers who want to show their characters as sacrificial lambs. Hagit is a bright, creative, friendly and gorgeous woman who may lack the skills for getting a doctorate at the Technion but who has so much else going for her.
It seems to me that it is implicit in the conception of this film that Hagit’s disability is a great hardship for her family, even a tragedy. While I don’t think that the life of every disabled person in Israel is all smiles and sunshine, I would love to see a movie where a person with special needs is depicted as a valuable part of life, not a tragic figure or a heavy burden.
That’s why I found it so refreshing to see Lena Koppel’s two films at this year’s Reframing Reality festival— The Importance of Tying Your Own Shoes and It’s All About Friends. Both of them use a mixture of special-needs and mainstream actors to tell stories about a group home for people with various disabilities in a funny, matter-of-fact way. When I spoke about the Koppel films to someone who works at SHEKEL, an organization that provides services for the disabled and that sponsored the festival, he said, “We looked for movies that did not focus on victimhood.”
If only more filmmakers had this attitude.