Published Sep 14, 2015Though Israeli director Nitzan Gilady is best known for making documentaries, his feature film Wedding Doll demonstrates a natural aptitude for the narrative fiction form. Having already been nominated for nine Ophir Awards (the Israeli Oscars), including Best Film, and nabbing Assi Levy a Best Actress acknowledgement at the Jerusalem Film Festival, this grounded story of social alienation is getting the recognition it deserves for being accessible without patronizing. It also manages to tackle a rather thorny subject — the sexuality and independence of a mentally handicapped woman — without resorting either to platitudes or sweeping idealism.
Hagit (Moran Rosenblatt), a young woman working at a toilet paper factory, lives with her single mother, Sarah (Assi Levy). Early on, we learn that Hagit suffered an injury causing brain damage as a child. She's high functioning and certainly capable, but has limited intellectual capabilities and a somewhat more emotionally erratic disposition than most. Sarah discusses the possibility of putting Hagit in a home with her son, noting the difficulty in sacrificing her own life to look after the girl and balance the needs of her job.
By telling a coherent, but not expository, story, Gilady allows Levy to visualize Sarah's struggle through reaction and behaviour. While Wedding Doll focuses on Hagit's world and the budding romance she develops with her co-worker Omri (Roy Assaf), the son of the factory owner, the simultaneous love and frustration that Sarah experiences adds a rather wrenching emotional dynamic to what's already a rather challenging trajectory. This ability to consider peripheral storylines and ensure that there's a functioning world outside of the experience of our protagonist aids in creating a rather rich and complex backdrop for what turns out to be a partially empowering and partially tragic coming-of-age.
While a handful of films have tackled the issue of budding romances between people with mental disabilities, the notion of someone living with such limitations being romantically involved with someone operating with full mental capabilities is rarely depicted. In Wedding Doll, it's interpreted primarily through the eyes of Hagit. Being curious sexually and romantically — in her spare time she makes wedding dolls out of toilet paper — she's interested in her co-worker. He's handsome and roughly her age, and Gilady, in capturing the simultaneous innocence and adult consciousness of Hagit, allows things to unfold in an awkward, but resultantly believable, manner. Early encounters, such as Hagit bringing Omri toilet paper when he runs out and casually looking down between his legs, while gross, demonstrate the sort of socially ignorant romantic advances that might logically be made in such a situation.
Careful consideration is made of our protagonist's feelings and her lofty ambitions — after learning that the toilet paper factory might close, she applies for a seamstress job and assumes she'll be able to design dresses — but Omri's story is a little fuzzier. He is tender with Hagit; there's no sense that he's taking advantage of her, but his motivations, beyond hormones, are unclear. We get a glimpse at his social lexicon when his porn-watching buddies lend him money to help keep the factory open, but there's not much background information on him outside of fading affluence.
Fortunately, this doesn't hinder what is ostensibly a tale of two women. Hagit's experiences, be they romantic or degrading — she's perpetually teased by children to the point of fleeing in fear — drive Wedding Doll forward and make it a very emotionally immersive experience. Even if the metaphor of creating art on a shit canvas (that Hagit makes art out of toilet paper isn't just a coincidence) is a little tacky, the notion of a harsh world crushing innocence and idealism is effective.
Instead of trying to create a pitiable portrait of a woman fighting against the odds, Gilady places a thoughtfully developed character in a complex and imperfect world, showing what happens when her innocence is confronted by human hypocrisy and generalized cruelty. In doing this, he makes her journey much like the experiences of many in this world, which is respectful and profound in its own humble way.
(Gilady Nitzan Films)