What do you do when your family hates you for what you are? If you’re lucky, you get out. That’s what happens to Assaf at the start of “Melting Away,” a teenage boy who disappears after his father, upon finding women’s clothes hidden in his son’s bedroom, bolts the door to the house.
“He’ll come back,” says Shlomo to Assaf’s tearful mother, Gallia.
And she believes him. But Assaf never returns. Four years later, however, Anna does. After enlisting the assistance of a private detective, Gallia finds her son — who has since become her daughter — to let her child know that Shlomo is dying.
Acting as a care nurse by day while he convalesces, Anna appears to successfully hide her new identity from her father, whose illness has made him less of an overbearing jerk, while trying to recreate the relationship they never really had.
If “Melting Away,” which screens at this year’s Seattle Jewish Film Festival, were an American film, it likely would have made its rounds of the indie film circuit, screened at a few gay and lesbian film festivals, then been relegated to the LGBT section of the dwindling video stores in the more progressive cities around the country. But this is not an American film. This is Israel’s first examination of transgender issues on the screen, and director Doron Eran manages to create a sensitive yet engaging film that can come only from his level of experience behind the camera.
Which isn’t to say that the film is perfect. Hen Yanni is spectacular as Anna, and Ami Weinberg’s portrayal of Shlomo, the go-getter-turned-terminal-patient, is just as impressive. Limor Goldstein’s portrayal of the weak-turned-empowered Gallia is good, if not too tearful.
But the supporting cast — a favorite uncle whose understanding behavior toward a disaffected young nephew is far different from his aggressive behavior toward pretty young women, or the best friend who fears coming out to his mother — play too close to type.
But the actors work well together, and with what they have. Assaf/Anna is pensive, drawn into her career as an artist and cabaret singer, and is seemingly well adjusted despite having lived in hiding for several years. That she can slip right back into her family’s lives so easily without immediately giving herself away pushes the boundaries of believability, as does the fact that no one in the hospital questions Anna’s nursing credentials.
But those are minor quibbles in a beautifully shot, conversation-inducing picture. The ending turns much of what we’ve watched on its head, but everyone gets what he or she wants, even Shlomo, though it doesn’t give anything away to say that he dies. For everyone else, life goes on.