Film Review: Wedding Doll

A thoughtful and impressively performed Israeli film about a cheerful but mentally challenged young woman whose professional and personal ambitions are out of reach. The movie also explores her impact on those around her, most notably her mother.
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Evoking an updated Light in the Piazza coupled with The Glass Menagerie, writer-director Nitzan Gilady’s Wedding Doll is a low-key slice of life drama set in the Negev desert and centering on a charming but mentally and intellectually challenged 24-year-old woman, Hagit (Moran Rosenblatt), who has her sights set on a career as a wedding dress designer.  She spends her time doodling and creating dozens of little stick dolls clad in “nuptial gowns” made of toilet paper, which she gets from her menial job at a toilet paper manufacturing plant. The metaphor here is not subtle.

Hagit’s futile professional ambitions are surpassed only by her love for her boss’ son, Omri (Roy Assaf). Omri is drawn to her, though what precisely she means to him is never made clear, their regular make-out sessions notwithstanding. In any case, it’s a relationship that has no future; Omri’s father is determined to put an end to it, and Hagit’s mother Sara (Assi Levy) rarely lets Hagit out of her sight.

Sara is a central figure here, too. Indeed, much of the film explores her complicated feelings for her daughter and the social and emotional price she’s paid in raising her. Sara’s husband and son, both of whom feel Hagit belongs in an assisted living facility, have jumped ship. Sara’s ex doesn’t visit Hagit, and Sara’s son, now married and with a child of his own, rarely sees his mother or sister. Lonely and angry, Sara ekes out a living as a hotel chambermaid. Her new boyfriend’s patience is wearing thin, too, as Sara must constantly attend to Hagit and has little time for him.

Short of a melodramatic ending, Wedding Doll is matter-of-fact in tone and devoid of special pleading. The film marks an impressive narrative feature debut for Gilady, who is best known for documentaries. Wedding Doll has already walked off with an array of honors, including an Ophir Award for Best Actress.

Levy, deservedly nominated for Best Supporting Actress, is top-notch as the entrapped, compassionate and arguably over-protective mom. Sara’s frustration and disappointment in her own life is palpable, and Levy gives a nuanced and intelligent performance.

But the picture clearly belongs to Rosenblatt for her stellar turn as the relentlessly sunny and optimistic child-woman who has spent her life bullied by neighborhood kids bellowing “Weirdo!” at her.  

In one poignant scene, Hagit applies for a job as a designer in a local bridal shop whose owner is looking for a seamstress. Hagit insists she’ll learn how to sew as a stepping stone to becoming a designer. The boutique owner says she’ll get back to her, and Hagit leaves the store in high spirits, convinced she’ll land the gig. Of course, she never hears back from the store owner, who promptly hires someone else.

Then there’s the snippet, bordering on the grotesque, that clearly points to Hagit’s full-blown sexuality within the psyche of a jolly little girl. Omri is on the toilet at work when he suddenly realizes there’s no toilet paper in the bathroom. He’s embarrassed, aware of his nakedness and the smell, but nonetheless shouts out to Hagit to bring him a roll. Hagit opens the door to the bathroom and, grinning and staring at Omri’s genitals, teasingly holds out toilet paper before drawing back when he reaches for it. This is “gross,” Omri says—an accurate description—to which a beaming Hagit replies: “What are we going to do when we’re living together?” The scene is creepy and sad.

But perhaps the most memorable aspect of Rosenblatt’s performance is her body language, posture and gait. Pigeon-toed and leading with her stomach, she keenly suggests a stunted young woman who will ultimately rot (a kind of Miss Havisham) as a superannuated prepubescent sporting a peculiar and self-designed wedding dress.

Roey Roth’s cinematography is notable, too, in capturing the endless stretches of flat, sun-baked, barren desert. 

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