Tali, an Israeli wife, and her husband, Liran, are trying to have a baby. They’re getting desperate — Tali is in her mid-30s and Liran is facing pressure from his father. As the couple feel they are running out of time and options, their doctor offers a solution: in vitro fertilization, or IVF.
The issue, close to home for many Israelis, is at the heart of “The Art of Waiting,” a new Israeli feature film by director Erez Tadmor that made its US premiere January 22 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The director told The Times of Israel that the film represents an unprecedented look at IVF — and it’s rooted in the actual story of how he and his wife, Moran Tadmor, became parents.
The Tadmors have two children, ages nine and four, who were both born through IVF. Erez Tadmor said that fatherhood is “very nice. You don’t know that when you do it, you fall in love again.”
The IVF process took three years for each child. “We didn’t tell anyone we were doing the treatment to make the children,” Tadmor said. “Now it’s easier because the children were born.”
It was also easier for the director to think about addressing the experience through film — first in the 2017 comedy short “Sirens,” about a couple going to a Tel Aviv hospital for fertility treatments during a rain of missile attacks on the city from the Gaza Strip. The plot paralleled the experience of the Tadmors, who were going to treatments when there were “a lot of missiles in Tel Aviv,” he said. “It was scary, but it’s over now.”
Not only did “Sirens” win an Ophir Award for Best Short Film, it also spurred conversation about IVF.
“A lot of people asked me to come speak about the subject at a lot of places in Israel and over the world,” Tadmor said. “Everybody asked me why not do a feature film about the subject.”
IVF was successfully pioneered in 1978 with the birth of Louise Brown in the United Kingdom. One of the doctors who presided over the historic event was the late Robert Edwards, whose work won the Nobel Prize in 2010.
In a report that came out on the 40th anniversary of Brown’s birth, CNN explained that in vitro means “in glass” in Latin, and that the fertilization process “involves removing eggs from a woman’s ovaries and mixing them with sperm outside the body… Fertilized by this process, the eggs become embryos that can be placed in a woman’s uterus, where they can develop into a fetus and eventually a baby.”
“Eight million babies have been born worldwide as a result of IVF and other advanced fertility treatments,” stated the report, citing the International Committee Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies. The report quotes a British doctor and reproductive medicine consultant, Gillian Lockwood, who called the number of births “quite a conservative estimate.”
This month, New York became the 17th state in the US to require health insurance companies to expand their IVF coverage. It’s a process that costs thousands of dollars when not covered in the United States. According to a WRGB-TV report, before the law took effect “very few” insurance companies “would cover the whole process.”
The Israeli government is much more supportive of IVF, said Tadmor.
“In Israel, the state wants people to have children. They want children. They pay everything regarding IVF — all the treatments — until age 44,” he said.
According to the Israeli Ministry of Health website, the state fully funds the first two viable pregnancies for any couple (regardless of children from previous relationships), or single women looking to start an independent family, until the woman’s 45th birthday.
In the film, Liran and Tali discover that Liran has weak sperm, turning to IVF after countless hospital trips — including one in which he learns that a chatty older man has been trying to start a family for nine years.
“I wanted people to become closer to this subject, know about the subject,” Tadmor said.
Tadmor’s film is bringing wider awareness of the process to the public. “Now over 100,000 people have come to the theater to see the movie,” he said. “Here in Israel, it’s a lot for an Israeli movie.”
For some in the audience, the story has extra meaning. “When I go to the Q&A to talk about the film, all the time I find something like eight people who tell me this is their story,” Tadmor said.
The director raved about both of his co-stars — Roy Assaf, who plays Liran, and Nelly Tagar, who plays Tali. Tadmor directed Assaf in a previous project, “Wounded Land,” in 2015, and calls the actor “one of the best here in Israel.”
For “The Art of Waiting,” Tadmor and Assaf co-wrote the screenplay. According to Tadmor, Assaf contributed “a lot of situations I thought were very deep, very funny, out of [real] life,” including Liran waiting in line at the hospital to give sperm in a plastic cup.
Tadmor called Tagar “one of the big stars in Israel as an actress, a very big star in TV and movies,” such as the 2016 Avi Nesher film “Past Life.” The director said he was unsure at first whether Tagar could do the role of Tali, but he was persuaded by her audition, which he called “very funny” and “with a lot of emotion.” In the film, he said, “she knew how to work with humor,” and she also researched the subject of IVF by visiting hospitals and watching staff members and couples undergoing fertility treatments. “I was very happy to work with her,” Tadmor said.
When the film begins, Liran and Tali are trying to balance their careers with starting a family, entrusting their hopes to a doctor (Eli Gorenstein) who has a reassuring message.
“A doctor like this is like God for them,” Tadmor said. “He’s their last option to make children.”
However, he also tells them that fertility treatments are time-consuming and will require cutting back on their hours at work. Tali takes him seriously, but Liran still tries to maintain a workaholic schedule with his latest real-estate project, constantly taking calls on his earpiece, which causes tension with Tali.
The couple’s families add to the pressure. Liran’s father, Moshe, is happy to share both vegetables from his garden and unsolicited commentary about his prospects for a grandchild. Liran’s mother, Nurit, tries to empathize with Tali. When Moshe and Nurit’s house in Sderot is destroyed by a rocket from Gaza, they move in with Liran and Tali, bringing Liran’s gay brother Dudu and Liran’s grandmother. Tadmor said that Liran’s parents fear Dudu will not have children, although he expresses a wish to become a father. All of the parents’ pressure to become a father falls on Liran. This pressure, coupled with the suddenly cramped quarters in Liran and Tali’s home, results in estrangement, reflecting what Tadmor describes as an Israeli expectation for couples to have children.
“Here, the pressure is very big,” Tadmor said. He said that in Israel, “a lot of people came from the Holocaust. They wanted to be a big family. It’s like the baby boom in America in the 1950s, the 1960s, a lot of people in America wanted children.” He said that this has been the case in Israel “all the time, from the beginning of the state.”
A counterbalancing perspective is offered by Tali’s father, who is played by Rami Heuberger. “This character says, ‘Don’t go to the treatments, they’re not good for you,’” Tadmor said. Tali’s father lost his first wife — Tali’s mother — when she was young. He remarried and had many more children. “He doesn’t need more children,” Tadmor explains. “He has enough. He’s very afraid Tali will be in the same situation like her mother.”
As Tali and Liran confront their families, and themselves, they make some key realizations about who they are and what they want in life, reflecting the director’s personal trajectory during a complex time.
“After some years, after the treatment, I thought about it very clearly and very openly,” Tadmor said. “Now I can laugh about the subject and love the subject.”