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Praying with Lior

April 29, 2009

A look into the life of an unforgettable person

Lior Liebling is a 12 year old boy with Down syndrome who prayers loudly and with much devotion pretty much all of the time. This documentary follows Lior and his family in the months leading up to his Bar Mitzvah and through extensive interviews with Lior’s father and step-mother, the older brother who’s assumed a lot of the responsibility for raising Lior, the younger sister who harbors some animosity toward Lior and her family for not having received the attention she felt she deserved, the classmates at the Orthdox Jewish school he attends and, along with home movies of an infant Lior singing Hebrew prayers with his mother, a rabbi who died of cancer when Lior was six, we’re given a very nice insight into Lior as a person. Unfortunately, I was left feeling a little bit cheated at the end because despite the interviews, I didn’t get as good of a feeling for his family and his community as I would have liked. This is a small complaint because I was given a very extensive look into the heart and soul of Lior Liebling who is the heart and soul of this documentary.

Lior’s praying and spirituality almost seems to be obsessive and the director tosses out a lot of theoretical questions for us to think about: Who is Lior and what is his place on earth, what is his role in God’s plan, what do his prayers mean to the rest of us, how does he impact, for good or bad, the lives of those around him physically and spiritually. Those were all interesting questions to think about and to try and apply personally, but I think the director missed the mark just a little when she didn’t balance those philosophical questions out with ideas that maybe Lior is just a kid with Down syndrome. His father, talking about Lior, says at one point, “He’s not stupid. He’s retarded.”, and while I don’t disagree with that, it made me wonder if we weren’t being led into this certain direction so we wouldn’t question Lior’s praying as maybe a manifestation of his condition or because of his learning disabilities, but simply accept it as something more, as something beyond our ability to reason and as something to just accept on faith. Because of that, I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was being presented in such a way as to give us a feeling that there was something supernatural about Lior, and I’m not going to deny that there maybe isn’t, but I would have liked to have been handed everything and been allowed to make the decision rather than have the feeling that I’m being led in a specific direction. Again, this is a small complaint.

Another small complaint is that I would have liked to have seen more of the bad days in Lior’s life and more of the warts in the Liebling family, as well as more of an exploration that maybe Lior’s praying is, as briefly suggested at one point in the movie, simply his response to praise he received from the mother who still maintains a spiritual place in his heart. The fact that these non-spiritual thoughts weren’t discussed in more depth didn’t take away from the movie in any way, but I think giving them more attention would have made the movie richer. Either way, and all my small complaints aside, this is still a very emotional and very powerful documentary and Lior himself is a person who has a personality and charm that transcends the screen and he is very difficult to forget once you leave the theater. See this movie and you’ll drive home thinking about Lior and there’s a good chance you might wake up the next morning thinking about Lior. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you might even ask yourself how you can be more like Lior. Whether he’s some type of spiritual genius or just a kid with Down syndrome, it’s absolutely impossible not to love and empathize with him. Lior, the boy who becomes a man, his faith, his personality, his optimism, his devotion and his love, is so interesting and endearing that he himself overshadows any small faults I may have had with the documentary.

This is an excellent look into the life of an unforgettable person. I rate this movie an 9 out of 10 and would recommend it very highly to anyone.

© 2009 by Michael Fishman

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