PRAYING WITH LIORNR
Everything’s a-bustle around the Liebling house, with preparations for the bar mitzvah of young Lior, who happens to have Down syndrome. Lior is an exceptionally well-adjusted boy, with a special passion for davening (Hebraic prayer), which many of those around him see as proof of his special closeness to God. Ilana Trachtman’s documentary Praying with Lior focuses on this precocious, lovable lad, while giving time as well to the special challenges he presents to others.
“Lior, you have so many boogers in your nose!” his sister observes, while another, younger sibling somewhat understandably complains about how all the attention is always on him instead of her, the baby of the family. (Who knew that anyone could be jealous of mental retardation?) Lior is an undeniable charmer, as well as a typical kid, with incessant April Fool’s jokes and a tendency to reject overanalysis, as when his rabbi father Mordechai tries to probe him about God. He is undoubtedly obsessed with religion, poring over Hebrew texts and leading his schoolmates in davening with the fervor of a pint-sized Elmer Gantry. (The religiously skeptical in the audience might more cynically associate this fervor with his mental deficiency rather than any rarefied ability to “see God.”)
Interesting tensions are present in Mordechai’s perhaps too-forceful pushing of Lior, whether it’s in preparations for his coming-of-age or on the baseball field, where the boy is obviously inept. There’s also the relationship with Lior’s stepmother (his real mother died when he was six), as well as his older brother, Yoni, who is so devoted to his “best friend” of a little brother that he plans to only go to a college within commuting distance of the family. Classmates of Lior’s are also interviewed and come off admirably in their tolerant acceptance of him, instilled by their religious studies (although one should probably keep in mind the fact of the camera’s presence and the need for making a good impression). These subsidiary personalities are just as interesting as the main one and lend necessary scope to this disarming film which, like the recent Billy the Kid, throws an absorbing light on a special, youthful misfit.