“The Good Son”
Quite a Story
“The Good Son” is the story of a young Israeli man … who takes the radical step of changing his gender without telling his family first. Or is 22 years old and he manages to secretly finance his sex change operation in Thailand by lying to his conservative parents. He then returns home as a woman to face her new life, her family and the cost of living her dream. Naturally there are questions—will her mother and father accept her back? Will she learn to take responsibility for her actions? “The Good Son” looks at how far we are forced to go in compromising our morals, our loved ones and everything that is familiar to us in order to become whole with ourselves.
Or’s own home videos make up the first part of the film – the emotional lead-up to the procedure, lying to his family about his acceptance to university abroad and stealing from them to pay for the operation in Thailand. He then teams up with filmmaker Shirly Berkovitz (correct spelling of first name), who not only documents the remainder of Or’s lonely and guilt-ridden journey through recovery and personal reinvention, but also acts as friend and confidant. Berkovitz has captured Or’s first steps in her new life as a woman, talking with fellow transgender people and finally, confronting her family and the price of seeking her true identity. This is an extraordinary tale about overcoming self-doubt, conflicted loyalty and being true to one’s self.
I understand that the story came to director Berkovitz through some 40 videotapes that were delivered to her front door by Or in person. “The footage in the first part of the film was all filmed by Or himself and in it Or really created the plot of the film. He filmed himself during the highly emotional in the emotionally build-up to his sex-change operation, including the subterfuges and deceits that he had to arrange and fund the operation without his family finding out about it. What is so compelling in the footage are Or’s inner struggles as well as his struggles with his family and society at large. Or knew what he wanted to do and began filming himself and as he did, he realized that he wanted someone who would not only film his story but who would also be his friend as he went through everything. Berkovitz had already made a film (“The Way Up”) on the subject and this was how Or got to her.
Berkovitz followed Or to Thailand where he had booked himself into a sex-change clinic in Bangkok. Before that, she had tried to talk Or out of what he had planned basically because she felt badly for his parents but then she realized that Or was a man and he had decided to do this. He had already paid half the money for the operation. A bond soon developed between the filmmaker and her subject. She was with him during his recovery at the hospital and she became more than a filmmaker. The film’s final ending when Or returns to Israel to confront her family with her “new me”, is emotional and very dramatic. Berkovitz feels that Or did the right thing and she is a very brave young woman.
Or had flown to Thailand alone and underwent eight different surgeries over a month – nose, jaw, forehead, breast and, of course, gender reassignment. Berkovitz decided that she wanted to “show the secrets we keep from our family that we are afraid to share. We seem to be afraid of sharing and we know that everyone has secrets. Or wanted to be who he felt he had to be and she did what she had to do. (I know that the pronouns are confusing).
The film has been quite a success and after ayear and a half of filming and two years editing. “The Good Son” aired on the Yes Docu channel from Israel and sold to 10 different TV channels around the world. It competed in the main category at the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam where it won the People’s Choice Award. It opened the Docs Barcelona festival, competed in the Israeli film category at the Jerusalem International Film festival, and was screened at over 20 other film festivals around the world. “The Good Son” has also screened to hundreds of fans at Nay Pyi Taw Cinema as part of the third Human Right Human Dignity International Film Festival in Yangon.
So now everyone wants to know what happened with Or. Though she returned home to Israel after her month of painful surgery, the recovery did not begin right away. Her father refused to meet with her and her mother cried; both parents were angry and afraid. Luckily, time slowly began to heal the wounds and love found its way back into Or’s family. Or has started working two jobs to repay her parents money, and in the meantime she found love and earned a chemistry degree. We all need to deal withacceptance and our ability to forgive someone who we really love and this is not a story about a sex change but about love in a family.