Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dani Menkin's and Yonatan Nir's DOLPHIN BOY is all about healing -- on several levels

DOLPHIN BOY -- the new movie opening this week by Israeli filmmakers Dani Menkin  and Yonatan Nir -- is such a cheapo, hand-held, do-it-by-your-bootstraps kind of documentary that you almost start fidgeting within the first minute or two of screen time. But because those minutes include the subject at hand, a 17-year-old young fellow named Morad, who when we meet him, below, has been traumatized by a physical beating almost unto death, we stay focused.

This beating came via another young man (and his friends) who had found what he deemed an inappropriate text on his sister's cell phone and decided that something untoward had been going on. It had not, but Morad was almost killed nonetheless. When we meet him, he has recovered physically but not mentally nor emotionally. He's unreachable.

Menkin (at left) and Nir (below, right) go out of their way to show us how Morad's doctors are flummoxed by their inability to breakthrough to the boy. And so, in a kind of last resort, because they have heard that "dolphin therapy" can sometimes reach the unreachable, off Morad goes, with his family's blessing, to an area by the sea in which dolphins are kept in what seem to be as ideal conditions as possible, without being exactly "free."

Fortunately Morad comes from what appears to be a well-to-do Muslim family. His father, when the movie opens, has already sold much of his property to pay for his son's rehabilitation.

The dolphins, with their seemingly innate kindness, do their job and improvement comes, if slowly. We watch and marvel as, bit by bit, the boy begins connecting with the world again. At around the six-month period, we hear about (but do not see) the reunion with his mother, which, as described, is something else. Here, the primal becomes physical.

Eventually we visit the courthouse with the family and see the criminals. It's shocking, after all the peace and serenity we've been experiencing, to see the stupidity, anger and inhumanity of the attackers. Then it's back to the dolphin base. Interestingly, as much good as the dolphins do, the movie does not concentrate on them. Rather, it's Morad and those around him that gain our keenest attention.

Dad -- above, praying -- is ever-present and loving; mom, too. Morad even becomes close with one of the young female workers (shown below) at the base, and a relationship develops. Without pushing the idea, the movie begins to mirror life and its complexi-ties: relationships, coming to terms with the past and with family.

We learn more about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, too, and how, as Morad's doctor explains, it makes you acutely aware of what violence can do to the human body and mind. Even as Morad grows more articulate and "normal," coming to terms with any thoughts of that traumatic time seems out of the question. Yet that, finally, must be the goal.

To that end everything from hypnotism to a startling new device to physically make the trauma symptoms cool down are used to help Morad. I don't know that this movie ever actually uses the term itself, but Dolphin Boy is all about healing. Healing Morad, healing the past, and -- as Morad's family are Muslims and the film takes place in Israel under the helm of Israeli filmmakers, maybe even healing the Arab/Jew conundrum.

Dolphin Boy is a lovely movie. And if those dolphins, as important as they are, finally seem the least of it, Morad himself is a fellow you're unlikely to forget. The film opens this Friday here in New York City at the Quad Cinema. I don't know of any other theatrical playdates, but surely we'll see the movie come to DVD, VOD and/or cable/streaming eventually.

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