The most shocking thing about Tomer Heymann’s “Paper Dolls”, a doc about Filipino transsexual caregivers to Orthodox Jews in Israel, is how a director could manage to so completely miss his film’s story.
The first half of this terribly edited film is mostly devoted to the eponymous, trannie performance troupe’s struggle to reach the pinnacle of artistic legitimacy – playing a super club in Tel Aviv (that happens to be run by a buddy of the director). Unfortunately for Heymann, elaborate drag shows haven’t been interesting since sometime after “Paris Is Burning” was released. Ditto the ins and outs of shaving and tucking. And the fact that there are young (gay!) filmmakers out there nearly forty years after Stonewall who still find the very existence of transsexuals sensational is sensational in itself.
Things don’t get good until the bodies start piling up – a suicide bombing, an immigration crackdown. And even these storylines pale in comparison to the beautiful daughter/father relationship between transsexual Sally and Haim, a throat cancer patient in her care. These two deserve their own ninety minutes. From octogenarian Haim’s total unquestioning acceptance of Sally in the face of the filmmaker’s own irrelevant probing to Sally’s inconsolable anguish at Haim’s funeral, these characters both humanize and save “Paper Dolls” from the director’s superficial lens. As far as I can tell, the only true “paper doll” – a reference to that which isn’t real – is Heymann himself.