Admirably, the documentary avoids the disability film’s cliche of forcefully assuming a position on the central character’s behalf. Rather than speaking on behalf of Lior, he lets him speak for himself, both as part of the documentary’s general view and literary. During various parts of the documentary, Lior even seems to be the director, a role he charmingly relishes. The interviews with the young man where we can hear questions being asked are more spontaneous than other interview parts of the documentary.
So, on one hand, Trachtman gives up formal consistency, but on the other hand, she gains production transparency. Because the audience would likely not understand Lior if Editor Zelda Greenstein and Director Trachtman excised his questions and cut together his answers, they leave both the answers and questions in the final version. Lior’s answers are sometimes cryptic, often insightful, and a more effective gateway into his mind than any attempt by a filmmaker to speak on his behalf.
While this unfiltered approach is effective in character self-presentation, it sometimes sporadically raises ethical concerns. The camera captures Lior with a dirty nose more than once, and at one point his sister comments on it. The camera pushes in to capture the dirty nose, and only after the evidence of a dirty nose is captured is Lior handed a tissue by a family member.
This is one of the many scenes that is captured due to a lack of tasteful intervention from the camera operator or director. In one of the scenes, Lior is captured allowing Akiva, his dog, to carry his shoe into the woods. Later on, when Lior needs his shoe and cannot trace it, he demands that his dog show him where he took it. Akiva advances towards Lior and barks, and it is clear that the young boy is scared. His fearful body language and repeated screams of no should tell the crew that their character is frightened, or actually in danger, yet instead of responding to the imminent danger, they continue filming the documentary.
In the majority of the scenes that Lior plays alone, removing him from his community depicts Lior as a curiosity and works against the positive image the audience had of him. Also, a young boy with Lior’s condition is not a person that could safely spend a lot of time alone, so the decision to remove Lior from the community just to make a movie scene more interesting raises ethical questions. However such ethical concerns are rare in the documentary and it maintains an empowering and straightforward image of Lior and his community.
Finally, although the film’s title is Praying with Lior, and there is close attention to Lior’s davening devotion, Trachtman steers clear of apotheosis, something that would be tempting for a mediocre filmmaker. The director carefully honors Lior’s admirable spiritual view while realistically exploring its impact and origin.
The filmmaker strikes the correct balance between the sometimes overestimated view by members of the synagogue for example, of Lior’s spirituality with Mordechai expressing that Lior is not a conscious spiritual teacher. Therefore for the audience of the documentary and for people in Lior’s life, the message should be encouraged by the force of life represented by Lior, but also not to unconsciously depend on the symbol that we exploit the life of the individual carrying it.