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(photo credit: Gurman Communications)
Dan Wolman, director of the just-released Tied Hands, looks relaxed, but he has a problem.
Tied Hands tells the story of a middle-aged Tel Aviv woman, played by Gila Almagor, who is caring for her son (Ido Tadmor), a dancer dying of AIDS. The film follows the Almagor character her as she ventures into the seedier side of Tel Aviv to buy some marijuana that will ease her son's pain. But Wolman doesn't want the project to be seen as an "AIDS film."
"The subject of AIDS is not in the forefront. The word 'AIDS' is not even mentioned in the entire movie," he points out. "This movie is about other things. It's about repression, atonement, about a boy who grew up feeling he was not protected and loved, and a woman who devoted her life to her husband, who collaborated with him in the cruel treatment of their son," he says.
All these issues are at the heart of the film, but Tied Hands is nevertheless notable for being a rare Israeli movie to feature an AIDS sufferer. Why did Wolman, a veteran Israeli director who began making movies nearly 40 years ago, choose this subject?
The idea for Tied Hands began to take shape in the Nineties, when he visited director Amos Guttman, who was suffering from AIDS and had come back to Israel to die.
"His mother was this old woman, and like the mother in the movie, she weighed him to see how much weight he was losing. He was as thin as a bean sprout," he recalls. Then he and Guttman shared some marijuana, which helped reduce the dying man's nausea.
Wolman later encountered AIDS a second time when his nephew died of the disease. But Tied Hands is not about Guttman or his nephew.
"It's fiction," he says. "Amos Oz writes about the bad reader and the good reader. The bad readers ask, 'Is this about you? What's real?' The good readers think about how [a book] relates to them, how it makes them feel differently about their own lives."
In spite of the queries he's gotten from the press about a possible autobiographical basis for the film, Tied Hands has found more than a few "good readers," - or, rather, viewers. "This film strikes a chord with audiences," Wolman says. "The pain is real and it hits you."
Many viewers have told him that the movie made them rethink their own relationships with their parents or children. Wolman found that even his own thinking about the characters changed as he made the movie. "At first, I thought, 'It's the boy who suffers, he's the victim.'"
Gradually, though, he found himself identifying more with the mother, who in many ways is not a very sympathetic character, a woman who passively acquiesced to her husband all their lives and rejected her son when he came out of the closet. "She's slowly getting the courage to look in the mirror and face herself," Wolman says of the character.
At the film's premiere at this summer's Jerusalem Film Festival, where Gila Almagor won a special prize for her performance, he made a touching and extremely brief speech in which he urged parents "to accept your children as they are."
Unlike most of the Israeli directors to show their work at the festival, Wolman has had a long career. He studied film at New York University in the sixties and then returned to Israel to make The Dreamer, the story of a young man torn between a much older woman and one closer to his age, which was shown at Cannes in 1970. Another career high point was a 1975 adaptation of Amos Oz novel My Michael. In recent years, Wolman, who lived as a baby in World War II Ethiopia while his father served in the British army, made Foreign Sister, a film about an Ethiopian worker in Israel, and Ben's Biography, a comic drama about an abused child and his family.
Given the length and complexity of his career, he has a unique perspective on Israel's so-called film renaissance over the past few years. "When you build a building, you have to have respect for the first bricks," he says. "Every 10 years or so, people say, 'Movies are getting good.'"
He defends the earlier days of the Israeli movie industry, naming a number of movies, such as Avanti Popolo, he feels were excellent. He does concede that a number of factors in recent years, principally the Cinema Law, which funneled more government money to local directors, have caused a healthy expansion in the country's film industry. In spite of the greater number of films, however, it's not any easier for him to get financing these days. Tied Hands, he says, was made for less than what the average Israeli film costs. To make ends meet over the years, Wolman took on all kinds of directing work, including industrial films and children's movies, including Itamar Climbs the Walls, based on the story by David Grossman.
Moviemaking is a family affair for Wolman. His wife, Shosh, is a valued collaborator on his movies, editing them with him. His children also help in the creative process, his daughter designing posters for his films and his son, who is now in the army, sometimes working as a boom man. His son is "my biggest help and my toughest critic," Wolman says.
Currently at work on a documentary about his parents, Wolman is also busy with the details of his latest film's release. "If it's shown at gay film festivals, that's fine," he says, though he hopes it will get shown at festivals of all kinds.