Nitzan Gilady’s latest film, Wedding Doll, is a dark portrait of a small Israeli community that exists on the edge of the Negev Desert. The town overlooks the prehistoric Makhtesh Ramon – a massive orange crater where many of the film’s characters congregate in order to reflect and socialize.
The Makhtesh Ramon is featured in a number of the film’s most memorable establishing shots. Early on, there is one moment that stands out. This is when Sara, the mother of the film’s protagonist Hagit, is seen working at dawn. Sara, a custodian at the local luxury hotel, is vacuuming a plush rec room with the lights off. Even in the foreground, Sara is not the only focus of Gilady’s gaze. Instead, she appears small with her cleaning supplies in front of a giant window that extends to the entirety of one the room’s walls. The faint artificial sound of the vacuum cleaner is all that can be heard.
Beyond the window is the Makhtesh Ramon, still sleeping under the dimly lit sky. The view is dramatically interrupted by the colossal gash in the dusty rock. The mood is lonely. At this point in Sara’s life, she is drained by tragedy. She is not going to stop working in order to take a look.
The crater represents the distractions that can get in the way of understanding how to solve any of life’s most complicated problems. Sara is trying to do the best for her daughter, but obstacles keep getting in the way. This is making her start to question whether she even knows what she’s doing at all. In turn, the expressions on her face make her look like someone who is losing hope in her own abilities.
Wedding Doll spends the majority of its time following Hagit, whose face casts the complete opposite expression as her mother’s. Played by the iridescent Moran Rosenblatt, Hagit has a smile powerful enough to light up a room. When she is happy, her energy is limitless and infectious. She obsessively dreams of designing beautiful wedding dresses, and one day, hopes to wear one herself. Her bedroom walls are plastered with magazine cutouts, and she spends her spare time creating mini-brides out of toilet paper rolls that she collects from her job at the local toilet paper factory.
Though it is never explicitly mentioned, it is clear that Hagit suffers from a high-functioning mental disability. She speaks with a stutter and is continuously called a “weirdo” by her neighbours. As the film progresses, her condition starts to present itself more clearly. Rosenblatt portrays her character with delicate realism. Her feet turn slightly inwards when she walks, and she runs with an uncontrollable excitability. In conversation, she is sometimes slow to catch on to the jokes being played at her expense, and usually ends the conversation with an uncomfortable laugh.
Most expertly, Rosenblatt is able to convey the simmering frustration inside Hagit’s character. Hagit is constantly being told what to do by her mother, has been abandoned by her father, and is concealed by her lover. Her facial expressions, easily overlooked, show her acutely reacting to this mistreatment. She responds to this lack of understanding in as courageous a way she knows how. But, ultimately, how many times can someone be dismissed until it’s too late?
Wedding Doll plays at Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk as part of the 2016 Toronto Jewish Film Festival on Sunday, January 17th. There will be back to back screenings at 1 pm and 4 pm EST.