Nitzan Giladi's quietly assured film "Wedding Doll," follows a young learning-disabled women, Hagit, through her journey to gain independence in a world that isn't quite as sweet as her optimistic disposition. Giladi's film has been awarded top prizes in its home country of Israel, including for lead actress Morgan Rosenblatt, who portrays the sunny, naive Hagit with a sense of a fully formed and detailed inner life, filled with dreams and determination.
Hagit has a job at a toilet paper factory where she harbors a crush on the owner's son, Omri (Roy Assaf), and creates tiny bridal dolls out of toilet paper rolls, an extension of her designs and sketches for wedding dresses. There's a mutual affection between them, but when the factory might close down, it threatens to tear them apart, and disrupts the stability she's achieved.
It's always difficult to pull off a sensitive and realistic depiction of mentally challenged or developmentally disabled people on film (harder still to criticize it), especially when the actor isn't disabled. Rosenblatt's performance is lived-in and respectful, but there are times when it seems that Hagit is just a quirky, nontraditional girl with a halting speech pattern.
The truly remarkable performance comes from Assi Levy, playing Hagit's mother, Sara. She wants to protect and take care of her daughter but has a hard time letting go, trying to protect her from the evils and unfairness of the world while also maintaining her own independent life. She's divorced, she's trying to date, but caring for Hagit gets in the way of both her love life and her work.
Giladi uses interesting exterior shots with flat, symmetrical framing to highlight the colors and shapes of the architecture against the vast desert landscape; the small town drama is so much tinier in perspective.
Many narrative threads are introduced, although some are jettisoned for the more obviously dramatic denouement, sacrificing total narrative closure. "Wedding Doll" is a small film with a unique take on coming of age and finding one's own place in a world that's often unwelcoming to people who are different.
Not rated. In Hebrew and English with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.