From a purely practical standpoint, IVF is surely a brilliant cinematic device for a film about a relationship. It's an opportunity to explore a whole range of topics – how relationships tolerate the sheer amount of strain, how individuals begin to portray themselves and their partner, how they are treated by their friends and relatives – each bringing with it romance, passion, conflict, and, hopefully, humour and love. It also, however, brings with it a powerful central metaphor about compatibility. What can a couple's biologically incompatibility tell us about their compatibility overall?
The answer is, of course, not very much. However, The Art of Waiting, the new film by celebrated Israeli filmmaker Erez Tadmor which was shown as part of the UK Jewish Film Festival 2020 insists on pursuing this question. The film dedicates a significant proportion of its runtime to exploring the struggles and difficulties faced by couples undergoing IVF. The film focuses on Liran and Tali, a married couple in their mid-30s who are struggling to conceive. As they progress through initial tests, hormone therapy, and finally to IVF itself, the film tracks the strain on their relationship, exposing the cracks which had previously gone unnoticed, whilst also displaying the struggles faced by each individually.
However, the film is really about compatibility. This is further reiterated by red alerts triggered by Hamas rockets, a thinly disguised demonstration of the geopolitical incompatibility within the region, puncturing the film at the moments when their relationship feels at its weakest. However, there is never much indication that the couple aren't compatible in the slightest, and so I never found myself rooting for their relationship to succeed. This is mainly the fault of Liran, a narcissistic, work-obsessed architect, always seen wearing his Bluetooth headset. In one scene, their doctor berates Liran for not taking the procedure seriously, asking 'Will you raise him with your Bluetooth?' before knocking it out of his ear – just in case the audience weren't completely clear about what the root of his problem was.
This is clarified further when we follow the theme of IVF as a metaphor, as the couple's inability to conceive is attributed to Liran's low sperm count. There is an element of sympathy for Liran, who is prevented by the pressures of perceived masculinity to admit this to his family. However, it is Tali who must bear the brunt of everything, not just because she is forced to tolerate this man-child, but also because, despite the fact that she is perfectly fertile, she is the one who undergoes all of the painful, time-consuming hormone therapies and treatments. Alternatively, Liran is told to stop smoking and do some exercise, both of which he approaches lackadaisically. If that wasn't enough, Liran is utterly oblivious to how one-sided the burden is, saying 'Those hormones made her psycho'.
That said, the film raises some very interesting points about parenting and the role of children, particularly in Israel and within the Jewish community. In the post-film interview Nelly Tagar, who plays Tali, said that children were Israel's 'national obsession', a description which is not unrealistic. The fertility rate in Israel is just above three births per woman, and the Israeli government funds fertility treatment for women, including single parents, up to 45 years of age for the first two children. Additionally, I can attest to the Jewish community's obsession with bringing more Jewish children into the world, as emphasised by my family's disdain at my perpetual inability to find a 'nice Jewish girl'.
Partially, this comes from a community still haunted by a spectre of genocide which killed one-third of its global population, a number which is yet to be replenished. Within Israel's Jewish community, which makes up around 74 percent of the country's population, there is a sense that children represent more than creating a family or the promise of unconditional love, but a responsibility, and a continuation of Jewish lineage which came disconcertingly close to destruction less than a century ago. Maybe this goes some way to explaining the pressures experienced by Liran and Tali, and thus the subsequent stigmatisation of their need for IVF.
Whilst The Art of Waiting, in my opinion, left plenty to be desired, it was interesting to see a thorough exploration of the road to parenthood and the meaning of having children portrayed on screen. And whilst IVF was maybe used too much as a narrative tool, from what I understand it was portrayed realistically, both in its display of the process itself and the emotional consequences surrounding it. Fundamentally, regardless of the infuriating bickering between Liran and Tali, it clarifies how important IVF is to couples who need it, and hopefully these are the messages the audience will take home.