Children with Special Needs on the Screen
In recent years, Israeli society has changed considerably in its acceptance of people with physical, mental and emotional handicaps, and this is reflected on the cinema and television screens. These subjects can present a particular challenge for the filmmaker but many have pioneered in recent years in order to bring the issues of living with a handicap into the social discourse.
In this category, it is worth seeing the following:
- A Touch of Magic by Baruch Dienar (1992)
- Yellow Peppers by Keren Margalit and Amnon Kotler (2011)
- Bena by Niv Klainer (2009)
- Mabul (The Flood) by Guy Nattiv (2011)
The pioneering drama, A Touch of Magic (directed by Baruch Dienar), produced by Israel TV, was the first film to touch on this subject. It is a remarkable story about a 16-year-old girl with Down's syndrome.
Also created for TV is the more recent Yellow Peppers (Keren Margalit and Amnon Kotler), a series about a family on a farming moshav in the desert, with a 5-year-old son who is diagnosed with autism. First there is shock and disbelief. In a touching moment, the mother asks the nursery school teacher why she never said anything and the teacher responds, "I said he's 'special'". Typically, it's easier not to tell the family that there's something wrong with their child.
Later, when the family decides to take the child out of the local nursery school and devote time to his education, people on the moshav complain, accusing the parents of insulting the teacher. As if people on the moshav didn't see that the child has special needs. How could they be so clueless? That's Israeli society – not seeing what they don't want to see. It's easier to come to the parents angry and accuse them of not supporting their communal nursery school, rather than admit that the child has a problem. Were they so wrapped up in their own concerns that they were unable to notice what is going on around them?
Still being broadcast, the series also portrayed additional difficult subjects such as foreign workers, issues of the elderly, divorce, parent-child relationships, and more.
Different from the others is Bena (Niv Klainer, 2009), a film about a schizophrenic young adult (Michael Moshonov) who is mixed up in a violent relationship with a foreign worker. [More about this film in a previous posting on this blog. ]
Unquestionably the most important production on this subject is Mabul (The Flood), directed by Guy Nattiv, script by Nattiv and Noa Berman-Herzberg. Nattiv and Berman-Herzberg studied together at the Camera Obscura Film School and their graduation film provided the basis for this feature film, Mabul. Guy Nattiv's first feature film was Strangers co-directed with Erez Tadmor [also previously reviewed on this blog.]Mabul tells the hard-hitting story of the difficulties of a family with a special needs child. The narrative revolves around a 13-year-old boy, Yoni, who is about to become bar mitzvah; his mother (Ronit Elkabetz), a nursery school teacher; and the father (Tzachi Grad) who is keeping it a secret that he has been barred from working as a crop-duster at the nearby airfield. The family is rather dysfunctional, the parents barely speak to each other, and then the older brother, Tomer, comes home from the institution where he has been for the last 12 years. Tomer is severely autistic.
The film is remarkable on three fronts -- cinematography, acting and script.
First the cinematography is superb with an emphasis on close-ups, making the sorrow, the betrayals and the difficulties terribly authentic and in-your-face.
The acting is a tour-de-force for the two brothers – Yoav Rotman as Yoni and Michael Moshonov as his older autistic brother – and the connection that is created between the two brothers is a remarkable one. In a radio interview on Reshet Bet, Moshonov tells how he went to visit many hostels and institutions to learn about autism because he "didn't want the role to be a cliché" and because he wanted to be sure that it would differ from the portrayal that he offered for the schizophrenic son in Bena.
The script is compelling, well-paced and laden with meaning. In dealing with the sea and the story of Noah and the flood, it offers an image for traveling far away, dreaming of a better life and for being washed clean and starting over. According to the scriptwriter, Noa Berman-Herzberg (in a radio interview on Reshet Bet), the central metaphor centers around the theme of the sinners in the story of Noah and the Ark. Everyone in the family is a sinner. The mother is betraying the father. The father has a problem with alcohol. There is the earlier sin of how the parents dealt with their autistic child, letting the shame of it break apart their marriage. Lastly, the younger brother, selling homework to make money, gives voice to terrible resentments against his parents. They all have sins to make up for and here is a new chance for all of them.
Mabul (The Flood) is currently playing in movie theaters in Israel.