DOVAL’E GLICKMAN (left) and Nevo Kimchi in ‘Laces’.
(photo credit: VERED ADIR)
In recent years, there has been a growing awareness in Israel of people with disabilities, and this has been reflected in the entertainment industry. Movies such as Mabul and Next to Her and television series, including Yellow Peppers and, most recently, On the Spectrum, have presented people with autism and mental retardation as full-fledged characters, not problems to be solved or people whose only function is to elicit pity. Now, Jacob Yankul Goldwasser’s engaging comedy/drama, Laces, can be added to the growing list of Israeli movies that feature characters with special needs.
Goldwasser, who is the father of a son with special needs, has created a touching film that raises some serious questions about society’s attitude toward the disabled, questions that cannot be answered easily.
The film starts off with Reuven (Doval’e Glickman), a Jerusalem garage owner who has not seen his retarded son for years, getting the news that his ex-wife has been killed in a traffic accident. There is no one else to take care of their son, Gadi (Nevo Kimchi), who is now in is late 30s. At first, it seems like this is going to be one of those movies where an irascible older man, set in his ways, is revitalized by reconnecting with his son, a story we’ve seen so many times. But this isn’t that movie, or, rather, it isn’t only that movie.
Gadi, who has to deal with the crushing grief of the sudden loss of his mother, also has to cope with a scary new world, in which she is no longer there to shield and support him. Apparently his mother nurtured him and embraced him for who he was, with all his quirks, while Reuven walked out because he couldn’t handle any of that. Gadi still gets upset when he is served a plate with different foods touching, and can’t go to sleep without a foot massage. Reuven is in control in his garage, but when he gets out, he barely has the energy to do anything, much less care for someone who needs as much help as Gadi does.
Reuven is overweight and a heavy smoker, whose only semblance of a family is at a cafe where everyone knows him, which is run by Rita (Yafit Asulin), the daughter of a friend of his, who regards him as a father figure.
Reuven is told by Ilana (Evelin Hagoel), Gadi’s social worker, that he only has to take care of his son for a little while before she finds a residential placement for Gadi in a place she considers excellent. At first, Reuven is tempted to dump Gadi in a lousy, for-profit home (a plot turn that spotlights a very real problem), but at the last moment, he can’t do it. Instead, he takes Gadi to work every day, where Gadi cleans cars, and to Rita’s cafe, where Gadi becomes a member of the group. Sometimes the others tease him, but they all tease each other, and Gadi is happy to be included. This is a nice portrait of the sort of kinder, gentler community that still exists here and there in some of the older neighborhoods in Jerusalem.
But then, as Reuven’s health suddenly declines, it turns out that his kidneys are failing and he needs to be on dialysis. He’s not a good candidate for a transplant, because of his age and his smoking, but if a family member can donate an organ he might have a chance. His wealthy brother (Dror Keren) balks at the suggestion, telling him to go to China and buy a kidney, not an option for someone who can barely keep his business going. But when Gadi learns of the situation he is willing, even eager, to donate one of his kidneys.
At this point, the movie focuses on the issue of whether Gadi should be allowed to make this decision. Legally, he is not, but the family makes a special appeal. It’s an interesting question, and not an easy one. Gadi loves his father and wants to help him live. But does he truly understand the long-term risks to his own health, and the very real possibility that his father will not survive in spite of his sacrifice? It’s hard to tell how clearly Gadi sees all this, but the movie asks the question: Doesn’t Gadi still have the right to make a sacrifice for the father he has come to love, as anyone else would?
I won’t give away any spoilers here, but it is a complicated question. Like the director, I also have a special-needs son and while I had never thought about this issue before, I appreciated how the movie explores it with sensitivity.
Doval’e Glickman, whom television audiences will recognize from Shtisel and moviegoers will remember from Big Bad Wolves, gives a wonderful performance as a certain kind of man who is self-destructive and filled with self loathing, but who is capable of moments of grace. Nevo Kimchi, who was on the television series Hostages and who has appeared in such films as Footnote and Restoration, gives a carefully observed portrayal of a retarded man. At times, his voice became grating – maybe that was intentional – and his unruly wig was distracting. But the actors work well together, and the gradual development of their rapport is convincing.
Laces is a new and welcome instance of a character who would once have been in the shadows taking center space on the big screen. Laces
is a new and welcome instance of a character who would once have been in the shadows taking center space on the big screen.
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