It all started with a photo.
Nitzan Gilady started directing a few different theater shows in Israel, particularly one street show in Akko.
It starred three women, but what stood out to him most was their fashion choices for the show: toilet paper.
The women walked the streets wearing wedding dresses made out of toilet paper, going along with the story they played of finding a husband.
“We took a lot of still photos, and one of them stayed with me for a long time,” Gilady added. From there, the foundation for Wedding Doll was formed.
Gilady directed the Israeli film, which was nominated for seven awards, including Best Film, Best Actor and Best Cinematography in the 2015 Ophir Awards — the Israeli Oscars — winning Best Costume Design and Best Actress, for Moran Rosenblatt.
Wedding Doll follows Hagit, played by Rosenblatt, as she works in a soon-to-be closed toilet paper factory. She has a mild mental disability but still craves romantic and familial relationships, of which her mother disapproves.
It will close the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia on April 3 at the Ritz East Theatre in Old City and also will be featured on April 4 at the Gershman Y for the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival.
Both Gilady and Rosenblatt will be in attendance to talk about the making of the film and answer questions from the audience.
Just by looking at the photograph that initially sparked his inspiration, questions arose for Gilady about who this character dressed in paper products might be —her background, her job, her personal life — but directing wasn’t always Gilady’s passion.
Initially, he dreamed of becoming an actor, and even moved to New York, where he studied at the Circle in the Square Theatre.
“When I finished, I was so sure of myself that at least I’ll be the next Robert De Niro, but reality was a bit different,” Gilady recalled.
In fact, due to his Yemeni features, many of the callbacks he received were to play terrorists.
He desperately wanted to perform classical theater but wasn’t given the opportunity, so he moved back to Israel, where he decided to pursue directing instead.
For Wedding Doll, Gilady also drew inspiration from his personal life.
About 10 years ago, his brother started suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition prompted by experiencing or seeing a terrifying event.
“The relationship between mother and daughter in the film has influences from the relationship my father and brother had,” he explained. His father was extra-protective of his brother because he didn’t know how to handle his PTSD.
His brother would tell him that he still dreamed of getting married one day, but whenever he told his dates about his condition, they would vanish.
“It was very hard; it moved me,” Gilady said. “And that’s one of the reasons in the film you can sense why the lead character wants to get married.”
Although the disorder changed his brother’s life, he is now happily married and has a child.
“When you have post-trauma disorder, it just changes your whole life because you’re not able; in a way, you’re a different person,” he added. “It has to do with depression and not being able to work.”
From those two instances, Gilady created Rosenblatt’s character, Hagit, who has cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder that affects movement, muscle tone or posture due to abnormal brain development from before or during birth.
Although he drew inspiration from his brother’s condition, Hagit’s disability is more serious, but she is still able to do many things. She has difficulty understanding the environment around her and mainly struggles with speech.
“She has difficulty understanding exactly what the environment means,” Rosenblatt said, “and in the movie she understands things in the wrong way.”
Hagit works in the toilet paper factory for nominal wages. In her free time, she creates wedding dolls out of the product. She and the factory owner’s son, Omri, fall in love, but Omri, who has no physical or mental disabilities, pressures her to keep it a secret.
Meanwhile, Hagit’s mother, Sara, is overprotective and concerned.
“During the movie, we follow their relationship” — of Hagit and Omri — “and Hagit and her mother’s relationship,” Rosenblatt explained. “Hagit also realizes that she’s hurting her mother because of her disability and she wants to marry this guy.”
Gilady filmed most of the movie in the Negev because — aside from its beauty — it also adds to Hagit and Sara’s conflict.
In that part of the country, Gilady explained, resources for people with disabilities are rare, with few viable job opportunities.
Rosenblatt and Gilady also spent time with a group of actors with disabilities to learn more about how Hagit would deal with her cerebral palsy.
“I really tried to find the disability inside me,” Rosenblatt said. “I found a special way I speak. It’s like a little bit physical and slow work; I tried to find the way I can speak that was still really comfortable and believable.”
But Rosenblatt said the moment she really believed herself and her character was when she met her fellow castmates, and she felt Hagit come alive.
“I think that movie just tells the reality of a really closed place with not many options and a character that has a great potential but can’t fulfill it because she lives in this place,” she added. “People are not really open to accepting her.”
Gilady echoed Rosenblatt’s sentiment.
“I think lately, society is getting far from humanity and that’s something that we should wake up and look at ourselves,” he said. “My message is more about love. You should love because if you love someone, it doesn’t matter who — a girl or a boy or a person with special needs — it doesn’t matter. If you love, you should go after your love and try to fulfill it.”
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