Not to be Missed
“Paper Dolls” (Strand Releasing) is simply fantastic. I don’t usually start a review with words of praise but in this case I have to do so. I sat and was enthralled by the movie—maybe because it is a first class film, maybe it is because it is an Israeli film and I am an Israeli citizen. At any rate this is one you do not want to miss. The message for diversity is so strong and so powerful and the movie is so well done that I wanted to jump up and yell “Bravo” when it was over. What makes it even more amazing is that it is true.
A group of Philippine men immigrated to Israel to work as caregivers during the day and as drag queens by night. Their lives are not glamorous—caregivers take a lot of abuse. They go to a section of Tel Aviv, known as B’nei Brak to work with the elderly, some of whom are very Orthodox Jews (the most religious kind). These Filipinos are bound together by being members of a group known as “Paper Dolls”, a troupe of transvestites who perform nightly at Filipino clubs. During the day they are men and take care of their clients including bathing and feeding them as well as taking them for walks. At night they haul out the satin, sequins, and feather and become the Paper Dolls.
Their “trans” lives are secret to most of their employers but there are some that do know and the trannies, in that case, are “adopted” into their families. If they want to stay in Israel, it is very important to have a family that supports them. If they lose their jobs they also lose their work visas and face the threat of deportation. Their legality as workers depends entirely upon their employers.
It seems that the situation in Israel is much more lenient than the situation in their own country and what the underlying message of the movie portrays is a portrait of outsiders who seek acceptance and freedom in a country whose laws are based on the ancient writings of the Five Books of Moses. Prejudice is evident (as we all saw when World Pride that was to be held in Jerusalem was cancelled at the last minute this year). Even the large gay community of Tel Aviv (which has become a stronghold for gay men) does not want to accept them. Even though the guys who are Paper Dolls enjoy the liberalism of the country, legally they are outsiders. The documentary concentrates on and explores the immigrant worker in Western culture as well as deals with those who have been cast out of society because of gender issues. All the guys want is to be accepted. The members of the troupe are incredible guys full of love for their clients and full of live for their audiences. This situation is not unique to them as it is similar all over the world. Immigrant workers are not dealt with in the best of circumstances and the director, Tomer Heyman, uses the Paper Dolls, as an example of the way such workers are treated.
The movie has so much to say about so many issues. It is a joy to watch the walls coming down between the religious and the gay and to see that a little understanding goes a long way. Everything about the movie is right on the nose. The acting is great, the cinematography is brilliant (Israel looks beautiful), the direction is near perfection and overall, “Paper Dolls” is an enjoyable, exhilarating and awareness raising film that should not be missed. When I lived in Israel the policy toward gay men had just begun to change for the better. The country is wide open now and Israel is on her way to becoming a gay capital. It is movies like this that affirm our zest for living, give us hope for tomorrow and allow us to be thankful for what we have. Don’t miss “Paper Dolls”.