Jacob Goldwasser, the director of Shoelaces, is intimately familiar with the unique world of special-needs people. He should be. His own son is mentally challenged. So it comes as no surprise that his feature film about this topic is genuine and empathetic in spirit and invariably moving.
Starring two of Israel’s finest actors, it will be screened online by the ChaiFlicks streaming service during its Israel Independence Day Film Festival from May 4-9.
Doval’e Glickman portrays Reuven, a gruff mechanic and garage owner in Jerusalem who’s suddenly called upon to look after his special-needs adult son, Gadi (Nevo Kimchi). Until now, Gadi has lived happily with his mother. But after her tragic death, Gadi is forced to move into his father’s flat until he can be placed in a suitable institution.
Neither Gadi nor his estranged father are pleased by the arrangement, which is foisted upon them by a well-meaning social worker named Ilana (Evelin Hagoel). Reuven, having divorced Gadi’s mother years ago, has been an absentee father and cannot handle his son’s disability. Gadi, still mourning his mother’s passing, constantly annoys Reuven because he’s a creature of habit and routines and a very fussy eater.
“What a lousy father, what a lousy mechanic,” says Gadi in reaction to his father’s unsympathetic attitude.
Despite the emotional gulf between them, Reuven agrees to be Gadi’s temporary guardian. Gadi, formerly a supermarket bagger who identifies himself as a singer and song writer, starts working in Reuven’s garage as a washer and cleaner. He’s a competent worker with a cheerful disposition, but he’s also uninhibited, which causes problems.
Fed up with the burden of caring for Gadi, Reuven tries in vain to place him in an institution. Reuven is further frustrated when he learns that Ilana will require three to four months to find Gadi the right placement.
In the meantime, Reuven regularly treats his son to lunch at a restaurant. There he he meets Rita (Yafit Asulin), the owner who regards Reuven as a surrogate father, and an Ethiopian waitress who’s dating Dede (Eli Eltonyo), Reuven’s employee. Gadi charms them all, but Reuven is basically ashamed of him.
Although Gadi is cognitively limited, he’s acutely aware of his father’s negative outlook. Kimchi and Glickman deliver impressive performances in their demanding roles.
Reuven, having failed to place Gadi in a special-needs home, finally comes to terms with the situation. By now, he’s protective of his son, as well as romantically drawn to Ilana.
Soon enough, an illness turns the tables on Reuven’s evolving relations with Gadi. Reuven, a heavy smoker, learns he requires a kidney transplant. He implicitly asks his estranged brother for help, but his brother’s tepid response leaves Reuven cold and disappointed.
Gadi offers to donate one of his kidneys, but Reuven won’t hear of it. In desperation, Reuven changes his mind, only to be confounded by a bureaucratic government committee which supervises kidney transplants.
Gadi comes to the rescue in stellar fashion, but it remains to be seen whether he can be of practical use to his ailing father.
Shoelaces, a small film with a big heart, is a tearjerker in the most positive sense of the word. Its treatment of a father’s fraught relationship with his son is neither cheap nor exploitive. This is a heart-felt film that strikes exactly the right balance.