Israeli film is fiction but reflects director’s relationship with his special-needs son

“Shoelaces,” the 2018 Israeli film that will play Wednesday night in Nanuet as part of the Rockland Jewish Film Festival (see below), tells the story of the complicated relationship between an aging father and his special-needs adult son, whom he abandoned while he was still a young boy. At the center of the plot is the son’s desire to donate one of his kidneys to help his ill father. When the transplant committee rules that the son is not competent to make the decision, and that his father, his legal guardian, does not have the right to make it for him, the son sets out to fight that decision.

The film won the audience awards at the Atlanta, Boston, and Los Angeles Jewish film festivals, and a best supporting actor award at Israel’s Academy Awards, the Ophir.

But for years after hearing the true story that inspired the film, director Jacob Goldwasser resisted making it.

The reason: The story cut too close to the bone.

“We have a son with special needs,” Mr. Goldwasser said. “As part of a self-protection of my heart, I decided not to do films about my tzuris, my problems. I felt much more at ease dealing with other people’s problems.”

“For 12 years I ran away from the story.”

What changed?

Blame the film’s lead actor, Nevo Kimchi. Mr. Kimchi was a leading character in Mr. Goldwasser’s series “Meorav Yerushalmi” — meaning “Jerusalem mix” — that aired for three seasons spread out between 2003 and 2010. He also played leading roles in the Israeli series “Hostages,” which is now available on Netflix, and “Prisoner of War,” which inspired the Showtime series “Homeland.”

Jacob Goldwasser

Mr. Goldwasser saw him perform in another project, a small role where he played “a guy with intellectual disabilities. That is how you say it in the cleaned-up slang,” he added, using a more direct word that we will not use to make his subject fully clear. “It was a very appealing, very touching character. He really did a wonderful job.

“I wrote to him a lot of compliments. And in a few words I told him about the story that I am refusing to make for 12 years.

“Immediately he called me. He said, ‘it’s a great story, do it!’ I said ‘no, I don’t have the psychological power.’ He pushed me. He didn’t let me go until I considered to do it.”

Mr. Nevo, for his part, “did the research like a good actor does. He went for a week to live in the village [for people with special needs] where our son is living. He worked with them. He spent time with them.

“We worked together on every line in the script. We discussed his character. We built him from the ground up: How he stands, how he talks, how he looks, how he laughs. Everything.”

The script was honed through years of editing, until it was finally approved by the committee that allocates government investment for the Israeli film industry.

“You have to be firm enough and strong enough not to break down and not to give up,” he said. “Maybe those rejections did good for the film.”

He believes the film does good for the world.

“I felt a responsibility to improve the image of those unfortunate people in the eyes of the public,” he said. “I’m sure that anybody who will watch this film — especially young people — will go home a better person. I have a very strong agenda in this film. More than the other films I made, which I insisted on having no agendas, only story. That gave me the courage and the power to do it.”

But don’t think it’s a grim film, Etti Inbal says.

Dr. Inbal runs the IAC Cinematec, which brings Israeli films to North Jersey. Last week she screened “Shoelaces” at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, and brought Mr. Goldwasser in to discuss the film.

“He took this special topic and used humor and an excellent actor to present it so that we can really fall in love with someone with special needs,” Dr. Inbal said. “You see the depth of his understanding of the issue. People were touched, very touched.”

What: “Shoelaces” at the Rockland Jewish Film Festival

What’s it about: Nominated for eight Israeli Academy Awards including Best Picture, “Shoelaces” tells the gently comic story of the heartfelt relationship between an aging father and his exuberant, autistic adult son, whom he abandoned while he was still a young boy and rediscovers later.

When: Wednesday, April 10, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Regal Cinemas, 6201 Fashion Dr., Nanuet

How much: $14, $12 senior citizen/student

Advance tickets at: bit.ly/rjff-shoelaces

For a full schedule of films and to buy advance tickets, go to: jccrockland.org/film-festival. The Rockland Jewish Film Festival runs through April 30. All films are shown at the Regal Cinemas in Nanuet.

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