Tova conducts her business from the easy chair to which she is confined, loud and proud despite having no movement at all from the neck down, thanks to the muscular dystrophy that struck after she gave birth to her daughter Dolly. “I do everything with my mind,” she declares, and she certainly proves it in Dan Wasserman’s documentary.
Although she has a special interest in would-be brides and grooms with their own disabilities, she welcomes everyone and anyone of any age looking for a life partner. So the film opens with a parade of the long, the short and the tall; the old and the young; the abled and the differently-abled; all looking for love and each with their own wish list. She pulls no punches and is not afraid to ask wheelchair user Yossi whether he can get to the toilet unaided. “Do you believe in love?” is her constant question and she advises all her clients to be prepared to compromise.
And so the viewer is drawn in to the stories of Tova’s clients. You find yourself hoping against hope that they will find happiness with Mr or Ms Right. There’s spiky Rosan in her wheelchair, out and proud about her chain-smoking and entirely unprepared to compromise to impress health-conscious Asi on their first (and probably last) date. The beautiful young blind woman, with whom you get to share the pain of having a potential date hang up the phone when she confides that she cannot see, gets short shrift from Tova, who tells her sternly not to mention her sight until the prospective husband has set eyes on her.
In case you think her successes are few and far between, it is her proud boast that she has arranged more than 550 matches. The filmgoer does get invited to the wedding of one of Tova’s successes, thanks to daughter Dolly who goes on behalf of her mother and relays the ceremony via her mobile phone. The joy of both bride and groom is palpable and immensely touching and Wasserman does indeed give the audience a guest’s-eye-view of the details of the traditional ceremony.
And then there’s the overarching story of Tova herself and her devoted husband Gaby. It doesn’t matter that he has "heart and psyche problems", including a strange compulsion to buy huge quantities of fresh peppers every day. It’s his total devotion to Tova that is so moving and their unwillingness to survive each other as they make clear in the living wills they make on video.
The climax of the film is their 43rd wedding anniversary party, surrounded by their large and noisy family and many friends. The highlight is watching the film of their 1960s wedding, and it is extraordinarily moving to see the young sprightly couple dancing together – she so slender and lively, as she points out herself. But time certainly has not withered this indomitable spirit and she and Gaby are a shining example of what you can look forward to if you believe in love.
By Judi Herman
Do You Believe in Love screens Monday 15 June. 4pm. £14. JW3, 341-351 Finchley Rd, London NW3 6ET. www.seret.org.uk