February 22, 2007
IFF: ‘Hands’ sends message about kids, not AIDS
His film, "Tied Hands," tells the story of a middle-aged Tel Aviv woman (Gila Almagor) who is caring for her son (Ido Tadmor), a dancer dying of AIDS. But Wolman doesn't want the project to be seen as an AIDS film.
"The subject of AIDS is not in the forefront. The word 'AIDS' is not even mentioned in the entire movie," he points out.
The film follows Almagor's character as she ventures into the seedier side of Tel Aviv to buy some marijuana that will ease her son's pain.
"This movie is about other things. It's about repression, atonement about a boy who grew up feeling he was not protected and loved and a woman who devoted her life to her husband, who collaborated with him in the cruel treatment of their son," he says.
All these issues are at the heart of the film, but "Tied Hands" is nevertheless notable for being the rare Israeli movie to feature an AIDS sufferer. Why did Wolman, a veteran Israeli director who began making movies nearly 40 years ago, choose this subject?
The idea for "Tied Hands" began to take shape in the 1990s, when he visited director Amos Guttman, who was living with AIDS and had come back to Israel to die.
Guttman's mother was an old woman and, like the mother in the movie, she weighed him to see how much weight he was losing.
"He was as thin as a bean sprout," he recalls.
Then he and Guttman shared some marijuana, which helped reduce the dying man's nausea.
Wolman later encountered AIDS a second time when his nephew died of the disease. But "Tied Hands" is not about Guttman or his nephew.
"It's fiction," he insists.
In spite of the queries Wolman's gotten from the press about a possible autobiographical basis for the film, "Tied Hands" has had a much larger appeal as well. "This film strikes a chord with audiences," Wolman says. "The pain is real and it hits you."
Many viewers have told him that the movie made them rethink their own relationships with their parents or children. Wolman found that even his own thinking about the characters changed as he made the movie:
"At first I thought, 'It's the boy who suffers, he's the victim.'"
Gradually, though, he found himself identifying more with the mother, who, in many ways, is not a very sympathetic character -- a woman who passively acquiesced to her husband all their lives and rejected her son when he came out of the closet.
"She's slowly getting the courage to look in the mirror and face herself," Wolman says of the character.
At the film's premiere at last summer's Jerusalem Film Festival, where Almagor won a special prize for her performance, Wolman made a touching and extremely brief speech in which he urged parents to "accept your children as they are."
Unlike most of the Israeli directors who show their work at the festival, Wolman has had a long career. He studied film at New York University in the '60s and then returned to Israel to make "The Dreamer," which tells the story of a young man torn between a much older woman and one closer to his age.
The film was shown at Cannes in 1970. Another career high point was a 1975 adaptation of Amos Oz's novel, "My Michael." In recent years, Wolman made "Foreign Sister," a film about an Ethiopian worker in Israel, which is particularly poignant because during World War II the infant Wolman lived in Ethiopia while his father served in the British army.
He also recently made "Ben's Biography," a comic-drama about an abused child and his family.
Given the length and complexity of his career, he has a unique perspective on Israel's so-called film renaissance of the past few years.
"When you build a building, you have to have respect for the first bricks," he says. "Every 10 years or so people say, 'Movies are getting good.'"
He defends the earlier days of the Israeli movie industry, naming a number of movies, such as "Avanti Popolo," that he feels were excellent. He does concede that a number of factors in recent years, principally the Cinema Law that funneled more government money to local directors, have caused a healthy expansion in the country's film industry.
In spite of the greater number of films these days, however, it's not any easier for him to get financing now. "Tied Hands," he says, was made for less than what the average Israeli film costs. To make ends meet over the years, Wolman took on all kinds of directing work, such as industrial films and children's movies, including "Itamar Climbs the Walls," based on the story by David Grossman.
Moviemaking is a family affair for Wolman. His wife, Shosh, is a valued collaborator and edits his films with him. His children also help in the creative process, his daughter designing posters for his films and his son, who is now in the army, sometimes working as a boom operator.
His son is "my biggest help and my toughest critic," Wolman says.
Currently at work on a documentary about his parents, Wolman is also busy with the details of his latest film's release. If it's shown at gay film festivals that's fine, he says, though he hopes it will be shown at festivals of all kinds.