First Run Features // 2007 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 26th, 2009
Faith can be simple.
A documentary about a young Jewish boy with Down's syndrome, as he prepares to enter manhood via his Bar Mitzvah and the impact he has on his family and community.
Lior is on the cusp of one of the biggest days of his life: his Bar Mitzvah. Though he has Down's syndrome, Lior has built a remarkable life for himself, as he focuses on his prayers and meditation and despite his disability, excels in the rites of his Jewish faith. The documentary follows the course of Lior's preparation, his learning sessions with his Rabbi father, his spirited prayers and the actual Bar Mitzvah, including his big speech in front of 300 people.
Filmmaker Ilana Trachtman has captured a sweet, simple slice-of-life documentary. The life in question happens to belong to a boy with a disability and what a full life it is. Lior may not possess the typically developing intellect of boys his age, but his spirit is overwhelming. His dedication to the Jewish faith and his Bar Mitzvah becomes an inspiration to others, though the point is made by one interview subject that Lior's devotion may just be a byproduct of his surrounding rather than an actual touch of the divine.
At first I thought that's where Trachtman's was going with her film, showing Lior does have this almost metaphysical connection with God, but it's not. And he probably doesn't. But that doesn't mean Lior isn't deeply intertwined with his faith. His prayers are earnest and his bond with Judaism is authentic and it obviously impacts those around them, which is almost evidence of a Divine bond in and of itself.
The substance of the actual narrative isn't the attraction here; it is, after all, just a tale of a boy and his Bar Mitzvah. What produces the sentiment is Lior and how he affects anyone who's close to him, which is surprisingly varied, always honest and even a smidgen off-putting. Take his father for example. The guy obviously loves his son, yet he has a minute disappointment in perhaps what Lior could have been had he not been born with Down's syndrome. He'll say something like "My biggest fear is that he'll grow up being sad and lonely," and that's an honest sentiment and I don't for a second doubt his affection for his child, but in his tone you can sense a molecule of sadness. Hearing his sister talk about how she wishes she had the attention that Lior gets especially since she's the youngest.
Trachtman interviews Lior himself over the course of the film and there's something about her tone that's grating. Like she's talking down to him, treating him like a toddler. I know she's not trying to do that at all, but that's what her vocal inflection sounds like. Also, these Lior interviews don't add a whole lot, though Trachtman tries hard to get info out of him.
These speed bumps are easily trumped by two incredibly moving moments: when Lior and his father visit the grave of his mother and both father and son break down in tears and comfort each other and Lior's Bar Mitzvah speech, which lays out everyone in the audience.
The DVD: a clean video transfer that suffers from a fake widescreen presentation and a 2.0 stereo track. Extras include bonus footage, including an interview with Lior four years later, some touching interviews with young siblings of children with Down's syndrome, deleted scenes, a filmmaker's biography and educational resources.
Praying with Lior is a moving, feel-good documentary about living with special needs, though it falls short of home-run status. The DVD technical treatment could have been sharper.
Not guilty. Shalom!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus/Deleted Scenes
* Filmmaker Bio
* Educational Resources