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Hagit, the central character of writer-director Nitzan Giladi’s Wedding Doll, is an outsider, but it’s not because of the circumstances of her birth—it’s because the 24-year-old, who’s beautiful, fashionable, and fiercely pursuing independence, has a mild mental disability. It makes her talk differently, misunderstand social cues, and overreact to unpleasant situations. Still, Hagit dreams of becoming a bride, just like the miniature figurines that the toilet-paper-factory employee makes out of the product she works with.
Moran Rosenblatt (Apples From the Desert), the actress who portrays Hagit in the Jerusalem-set film, is affecting the handicap, just like Leonardo DiCaprio (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?), Sean Penn (I Am Sam), and others have done before her. Unless you know Hebrew, it’s initially difficult to judge the naturalness of Rosenblatt’s performance, because she lends the character few recognizable, physical signs of a disability. She’s gorgeous, with a beaming smile and pillow lips, and is made up to look even more so. You wonder why Hagit repeatedly sneaks out of the apartment she shares with her weary mother, Sara (Assi Levy).
The more we hear Hagit speak, though—nasally, with not always the right word at hand—the truer her portrayal becomes, a terrific achievement given that Hagit’s disability is, in fact, mild. The character is joyful, and in turn is joyful to watch as she, for example, grabs moments by herself whenever she can and flirts with the factory owner’s son, Omri (Roy Assaf). While in her apartment, it seems that the only sounds Hagit hears is a neighborhood child yelling “weirdo!” whenever she spies the woman and the light binks of Omri tossing pebbles at her window as a signal to meet him at their usual spot, a breathtaking cliff in the desert.
Hagit, then, is kidding herself about the possibilities with Omri—or is she? She’ll show him her latest dolls, and he responds with compliments that seem purely polite. When they’re first shown sitting together outside, he closes his eyes while she stares at him, as if he’s irritated by her unflinching attention but doesn’t want to be. They do kiss, but Omri emphasizes that it must remain a secret—one he certainly doesn’t tell his friends, who mock her and call her “retard.”
Besides Hagit’s beauty, Wedding Doll’s cinematography is lovely, with swirls of color in the sky and multiple textures—whether natural or manmade—lending interest to the largely beige palette. Her visual world in particular is dominated by toilet paper, with rolls hanging on and draped across her walls and her little dolls, though childlike, boasting a variety of realistic designs.
Giladi’s story hangs on two conflicts: First, Sara’s attempts to keep Hagit always in sight, despite her daughter’s insistence that she can live her own life, and Sara’s inability to fully establish one of her own after her divorce from Hagit’s father. Second is the imminent closing of the factory. Hanging in the balance is Hagit’s job, Omri’s next step, and, of course, their future together. It all comes to a cruel head, but Giladi doesn’t let her film end on a sinking note. Appropriately, this Doll instead is treated to a close that may not be princess-like, but does feel happy.
Wedding Doll opens today at the Avalon Theatre.