When Hagit smiles, it's unabashed. Her face lights up. Her countenance is contagious. How could you not love a smile like that?
Here's the thing: when children smile like that, we're touched. When adults smile like that, we wonder what's wrong with them.
As adults, we've been taught to control our emotions, depending on the situation. In public, no one wants to look foolish, and smiling broadly as a reflection of inner joy is frowned upon in many societies. In the dark, when no one is looking -- as at a comedy club or a movie theater -- it's OK. Otherwise, it's best to restrain natural impulses and tamp down personal reactions.
Now, I've never spent any time in Israel, so perhaps it's completely different there than it is in the U.S., where I live. On the evidence presented in Nitzan Gilady's modern-day drama Wedding Doll, however, Israel appears to share the common tendency toward restraint, which makes Hagit's smile stand out.
As portrayed by Moran Rosenblatt, Hagit is a completely open woman. She never hides her emotions, as evidenced by her smile. She is 24 years of age, lives with her mother Sara (Assi Levy) in a rural community in Israel, and works in a small toilet-paper factory. At the factory she works alongside the owner, Aryeh (Aryeh Cherner), and his son Omri (Roy Assaf), who is about her age. Hagit has romantic feelings for Omri, and he appears to share those feelings, at least to a degree.
Omri, though, has reservations about pursuing any kind of serious relationship with Hagit because she is intellectually disabled.
For the same reason, her mother Sara worries about Hagit every day. Knowing this, yet yearning to be completely independent, Hagit awakens early, sets her mother's alarm clock late, and then starts the long walk to work.
Her mother always catches up to her, and is waiting for her at the end of the work day, but the routine (and the worry) is wearisome for the loving Sara, who keenly feels the burden of responsibility and feels guilty about doing anything -- or not doing something -- to endanger her daughter unintentionally.
Because Hagit is quite functional within the routines that her mother has set for her, she constantly pushes against those boundaries, not fully aware of the dangers that possibly await. Could she survive without her mother? Maybe. But probably not.
One day, Aryeh informs them that he will be shutting down the factory, which has been losing money for years. While Omri continues to argue that he could turn things around, if only his father would give him the opportunity, Hagit and her mother are caught in a more drastic situation. Can Sara hold onto her own job while finding a new one for Hagit? Can either woman hope for a satisfying romantic relationship?
Wedding Doll is a modest film that tells a simple story, yet packs a solid measure of dramatic punch. The performances feel authentic and genuine, and though the story could easily be drowned by the implied melodrama, writer/director Nitzan Gilady allows the characters to stand out. The pace allows breathing space and (nearly) always plays out in a natural, unforced manner.
Perhaps the circumstances of Hagit and her mother -- and Aryeh and Omri -- strike too close to home for me to be entirely objective, but Wedding Doll touches nerves without squeezing too hard, retaining a sympathetic perspective on an intractable dilemma.
The film opens in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, April 15, via Strand Releasing.