Waking up to a different world

In Dan Wolman's Ophir-nominated 'Tied Hands,' a sheltered Tel Aviv mother embarks on an overnight search for drugs to give her AIDS-infected son

israeli movie 88 (photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
israeli movie 88
(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
Four Stars Written and directed by Dan Wolman. Hebrew title: Yadayim K'shurot. 90 minutes. In Hebrew, some prints have English titles. With Gila Almagor, Ido Tadmor, Neli Tagar, Sharon Shtark, Tomer Sharon, Uli Sternberg, Isengi Liel A moving story of a Tel Aviv mother caring for a son who's dying of AIDS, Tied Hands works because it focuses on how the experience changes the mother (Gila Almagor). There have been many movies that have focused on AIDS, although almost none in Israel, but that isn't the point. It is not a movie about the disease, or about the acceptance of gays in Israeli society, but about the redemption of a mother who once distanced herself from her child and now longs to be close to him. The film may sound unbearably sad, but because it focuses on the uniqueness of this family, the characters are vivid and the viewer is drawn into their story without feeling that the director is preaching. Unexpected moments of humor and outstanding performances by the entire cast, particularly Almagor, make the film a rewarding experience, and not at all bleak. Tied Hands centers on Penina, a conventional woman who's spent most of her life devoting herself to her late husband, a celebrated painter. She's now invited her longestranged son, Uzi (Ido Tadmor), a gay dancer, to live with her as he dies of AIDS. The plot follows Penina as she ventures out of the apartment, and out of the world she knows, to get marijuana for her son, who needs it to minimize his pain and nausea. The film strains credibility slightly in suggesting that the widow of a Tel Aviv painter would have such a hard time finding someone to give her some grass, but if you can suspend judgment and accept this, you'll be drawn into her quest. Over the course of a night, Penina is forced to cast aside her usual habits and assumptions as she enters the alien world of drug users and dealers. The people she meets here - some of them friends of her son, others strangers she encounters along the way - reflect parts of Tel Aviv life she has never known. While some are welcoming and helpful, others are cold and dangerous, including street dealers who cheat her. She becomes far closer to her son as his friends tell her about aspects of his life he has never shared with her. She also begins to scrutinize her own passivity as she reflects on how she allowed her tyrannical husband, around whom the entire family revolved, to make all the important decisions about Uzi, including rejecting him when he told them he was gay. The comic moments come mostly from Penina's encounter with a fashion-conscious gay couple who expect to receive a gift of marijuana from a friend. Penina accompanies them to a gay club, where she is initially denied entry because she is a woman. A fish out of water among the many chic, leather-clad gay men, she waits for the drugs with a determination that enables her to overcome her own discomfort. But the promised marijuana doesn't materialize, and she is forced to look for it in more dangerous places. The story is also that of her son, who has refused for months to see his friends, afraid they will pity him, and perhaps jealous that they are not also facing death. As a dancer, he has long been unable to work, and his world has diminished to the point that he refuses even to venture onto the terrace. In a movie that gently prods the viewer to look at everything from a different angle, Samson (Isengi Liel), the Filipino caretaker who works for an elderly couple next door, becomes a genuine character and not just a hired hand, looking after Uzi while Penina is out. Although we don't learn much about his background, his perfect, careful English indicates that he is well-educated and as trapped by his circumstances as Uzi is by his disease. When Uzi's young cousin, Neli (Neli Tagar), defies his wishes and comes for a visit, she breaks down his barriers and he is able, for the first time in months, perhaps years, to open up to another person. By the time mother and son are reunited, both have been changed, and brought closer, by what has taken place in the hours they were apart. Outstanding performances are what make this movie work. Almagor's brilliant, restrained work holds our interest and makes her not entirely sympathetic character likable. Tadmor also draws us into a character who could easily have become a clich . The supporting cast, down to the smallest roles, is pitch perfect. Veteran director Dan Wolman, who has been making movies for nearly 40 years, has made an important contribution to the fast-changing Israeli film scene. While Tied Hands may not always be easy to watch, those who can see past the AIDS label will find a rewarding drama of a woman who draws strength from a devastating crisis.