Documentary Review: Up close and personal with an Israeli “Family in Transition”

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Galit Tsuk prepares dinner as her youngest daughter looks on.

And in the bathroom down the hall of their flat in the small Israeli coastal city of Nahariya, Amit Tsuk puts on jewelry and makeup. She brought their four children into this world as their father. But now she has come out as a woman and in macho Israel, we’re invited into this story of a “Family in Transition.”

The Tsuks eventually gained a certain notoriety in their home country (Galit got a couple of books out of this), but Ofir Trainin‘s intimate film captures this couple and the extended family surrounding them as Amit transitions and everybody around her adjusts with varying degrees of success.

There’s crying, but that’s often over this or that relative failing to acknowledge Amit’s change, or embrace Galit’s decision to stick with her. The rest of the time, it’s just Amit’s hormones supplements doing their worst.

Trainin’s film, in Hebrew with English subtitles, begins with home movies of their wedding, singing an Israeli pop song about “Don Quixote, wake up for me and stay my hero.”

But Amit, a wounded combat veteran with more than a few tattoos, has been living a lie. Now she’s out, and even if the couple now look like sisters — or at least burly-girly cousins — even if their kids’ friends (some of them) shun them, even if their Orthodox relatives renounce them, even if jerk teens on the street yell homophobic slurs their way, Amit is going through with changing her sex.

Whatever Amit is going through, Galit is her rock. She bucks her up before a “coming out” birthday party — “Be strong.” She promises her love is unconditional. “I will love until I reach a point I can’t take it any more.” And she changes the subject to “I should lend Amit my tights and thermal stockings,”

We even travel with them to Thailand where Galit is Amit’s moral support during the operation and the grindingly long recovery. Galit is there applying makeup before Amit wakes up after the operation. We see them laugh together and can feel the love.

But their teen son Yarden tells the filmmaker he sees trouble on the horizon, and youngest daughters Agam and Peleg giggle over the teasing they get from classmates, laughing at their burden even as their parents show signs that the strain is about to send them to rabbinical court, where one goes to divorce in a quasi-theocracy.

Having snippets of so many different points of view makes this shortish film’s turn towards disintegration feel abrupt, not properly set up. The kids could feel it, so they say. But Trainin gets this from them after the fact. Either we don’t have time to root for them as a couple or they’re not just warm and inviting enough for us to do it without prompting.

And Trainin’s in-your-face camera reminds us, every now and then, that whatever the strain the family is under, it can’t have helped to have the unblinking video camera sharing the most intimate (almost) moments of this trying and traumatic time.

We even catch Galit giving the camera operator the stink eye. We can sense that whatever love story Trainin set out to make, the one the Tsuk’s provide isn’t going to be the one expected.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: unrated, adult subject matter

Cast:Amit TsukGalit Tsuk

Credits: Written and directed by Ofir Trainin. Abramorama release.

Running time: 1:10

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