The director of ‘The Art of Waiting’ on why his film has touched so many

What the film captures so well, and one of the reasons it is such a hit, is that it shows not just the difficulties and inconveniences involved in the process, but also the emotional side of it.

NELLY TAGAR and Roy Assaf in ‘The Art of Waiting.’  (photo credit: DANIEL MILLER)
NELLY TAGAR and Roy Assaf in ‘The Art of Waiting.’
(photo credit: DANIEL MILLER)
"Whenever I do a Q&A with this movie, it goes on for about two hours – longer than the movie,” said Erez Tadmor about his latest film, The Art of Waiting, which is in theaters now and which tells the story of a couple undergoing fertility treatments. “And even after the Q&A, there are more people waiting who want to talk to me one-on-one.”
The Art of Waiting is a hit that has touched a chord with audiences by focusing on a subject that was once taboo and is still often uncomfortable to discuss in Israeli society: infertility. In child-centric Israel, admitting you are having difficulty conceiving “is something you feel you have to keep secret,” said Tadmor, who knows what he’s talking about. For six years he and his wife, Moran, underwent the process of in-vitro fertilization to have their two children, who are now nine and almost five.
“When we started dealing with this, of course being a filmmaker, I looked for a film about it. And I couldn’t find one. So I made one,” he said.
What the film captures so well, and one of the reasons it is such a hit, is that it shows not just the difficulties and inconveniences involved in the process, but also the emotional side of it.
“We didn’t tell anyone about it, except for our closest family members,” said Tadmor. “In Israel, you’re required to do three things: go to the army, get married and have kids. And if you have a problem having kids, you feel like there’s something wrong with you, like you’ve done something wrong. I felt like, ‘I can’t have children, I’m a cripple.’ You feel like concealing it protects you. There are definitely feelings of shame. You keep it all inside, and you don’t really deal with it.”
The irony is that although many are feel there is a stigma to fertility treatments, huge numbers of Israelis undergo them. That’s partly because they are subsidized by the government and covered by health insurance, unlike in the US where they cost thousands and are out of reach for poorer families.
The couple in the film, Liran (Roy Assaf) and Tali (Nelly Tagar) seem to have everything. They live in Tel Aviv, are successful in demanding careers and have loving, close families. But when they can’t have a baby, so much changes in their lives as they begin a process of tests and treatments that are stressful and invasive. Procedures and appointments interfere with their work lives, and their employers are not nearly as understanding as they had hoped. At the same time, the stress creates conflict between them and their families and, perhaps worst of all, it isolates the couple and drives them apart. Everyone finds someone to blame, as Tali, Liran and their families debate whether it’s her fault or his, and try to second-guess and micromanage how they are handling it.
TADMOR HAS directed many popular films before, including Magic Men (with Guy Nattiv), about a Holocaust survivor and his son visiting the father’s birthplace in Greece; A Matter of Size (with Sharon Maymon), about how some heavy Israelis embrace sumo wrestling; and Strangers (with Guy Nattiv), the story of a Jewish man and a Muslim woman who fall in love in Europe. Although all of these movies concern issues Tadmor is passionate about, he never made a movie that drew as closely from his own life as The Art of Waiting did.
“It [the fertility process] really takes over your life. There’s no preparation. The doctor says, ‘We have do the implantation tomorrow’ and you just have to do it if you want it to work – and you do want it to work!”
Tadmor said that although he had made several movies during the six years that he and his wife went through the process, he couldn’t travel abroad to film festivals with these movies, because he needed to be with his wife during the various procedures. “I would send someone else to go to the festivals. That’s just how it was. The fertility treatment had to be my first priority.”
For Tadmor, who is used to overcoming obstacles – being a prolific director in the small and competitive Israeli film industry isn’t easy – it was frustrating that there wasn’t more he could do.
“Normally, I’m a bulldozer. But here, you just have to do what they tell you and wait and hope,” he said. “I escaped by making movies – when I could.”
When he was casting the film, Tadmor looked for actors with enough sensitivity to understand the couple’s emotional roller-coaster, as well as enough skill to bring out the comedy in the lighter moments.
Nelly Tagar, whose breakout role was as a miserable soldier in Zero Motivation, wasn’t the obvious choice, since she is known mainly for comic roles, such as in the television show Sisters.
“I didn’t know if she could do drama,” he said. But after a matching session with [Roy] Assaf – when the two actors appear together to see if there will be on-screen chemistry – he was convinced she could bring out the character’s despair over her difficulties. But her funny side was important, too.
“I was laughing for days afterwards. I would get laughing fits on the street when I thought of her, she was so great. People asked if I was OK, I was laughing so much.” Her distress at the more absurd aspects of the process are the film’s comic highlights and elicit sympathetic laughter from audiences.
Assaf not only acted in the film, but also collaborated on the screenplay. “He doesn’t have children yet, so he looked at it as an outsider. He was able to see what I couldn’t see; that some of it is very funny.”
Looking back on his own story and the audience’s emotional response to the film, Tadmor said that had he known then what he knows now, “I would have talked about it. It’s a normal part of life. You see all kinds of people when you’re waiting in line at the clinic. Jews and Arabs, secular and religious, everybody. You’re all just people there dealing with the same problem. And if you talk about it you’ll realize a lot of other people are going through the same thing.”