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October 18, 2012 - Image 55

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-10-18

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Sixteen-year-old Arik

(Tuval Shafir) becomes

an apprentice to

matchmaker Yankele

Bride (Adir Miller).

Among their clients is

Sylvia (Bat-ES Papura),

a dwarf who runs the

local cinema.

2

Coming Of Age In Haifa

Avi Nesher's The Matchmaker steers clear
of the pitfalls of a popular film genre.

George Robinson
Special to the Jewish News

C

oming-of-age movies are easier
to find these days than political
consultants, and about as useful.
Young directors trying to follow the advice
to "write/film what you know" only know
about coming of age (or old movies and
TV). Boomers trying desperately to cling
to their threadbare youths replay first love
on camera to little effect. Unless your story
really does have something to offer beyond
the sentimental cliches of the genre, you
should keep your coming-of-age story to
yourself.
Happily, Avi Nesher's The Matchmaker,
which screens at the Detroit Film Theatre
at the Detroit Institute of Arts Oct. 19-21
and 27-28, is an admirable exception —
a coming-of-age story that is not only
unusual but deeply felt and skillfully made,
so that even the most predictable plot
turn feels emotionally logical. The prod-
uct of an unusual collaboration between
Nesher and award-winning novelist Amir
Guttfreund (Our Holocaust), the film is a
thoroughly satisfying rumination on the
necessity of love and the sometimes-awful
things people do in its absence.
At the film's outset it is 2000, and novel-
ist Arik Burstein (Eyal Shehter) and his
elderly father Yozi (Dov Navon) visit an
attorney's office in a Haifa that is under
bombardment. There, Arik is informed

i A

Yankele Bride (Adir Miller) has complicated feelings toward Clara (Maya Dagan), who

gives dating lessons to the shyer male suitors, like Meir (Dror Keren).

of a considerable legacy bestowed upon
him by a name from his youth, Yankele
Bride. As they return to the empty streets
of the city, both men are baffled by the
inheritance; "I thought he hated me," Arik
says. Among the papers he has received
from the attorney is the notebook that
the young aspiring writer kept during the
summer of 1968, a time when he worked
for Bride, a mysterious figure whose pri-
mary occupation appears to be as a shad-
khen, a matchmaker.
That summer Arik (now played by Tuval
Shafir) was "almost 16," he recalls as the
film enters the extended flashback that
covers almost all its running time. He is

a smart-alecky kid, with a quick wit and
a quicker mouth, whose practical joke on
Yankele (Adir Miller) boomerangs in an
unexpectedly positive way.
The shadkhen, a heavily scarred man
who walks with a pronounced limp and
the help of a walking stick, meets Arik's
father and recognizes him as a childhood
friend from Romania, a fellow survivor of
the death camps. Turning the situation to
his advantage yet covering for the insolent
teen, Yankele decides to take him on as
an assistant, his "spy-guy," who checks up
on the veracity of prospective brides and
grooms.
This is an ideal summer job for an

aspiring mystery writer, and it drops
Arik into the milieu of Haifa's "Low-Rent
District," a colorful — if occasionally
ominous — place in which he becomes at
home with the hedonistic but fairly benign
world inhabited by the likes of Miss Sylvia
(Bat-El Papura), one of a group of dwarves
who survived Dr. Mengele's experiments
and now run a movie theater that "only
shows love stories:' and Miss Clara (Maya
Dagan), the fragile recipient of Yankele's
own affections and his business partner in
small-time crime, who gives dating lessons
to Bride's shyer male suitors, like the inse-
cure Meir (Dror Keren), the local librarian.
At home, Arik faces a similarly com-
plicated awakening when Tamara (Neta
Porat), cousin of his best friend Benny
Abadi (Tom Gal), is dumped unceremo-
niously on the Abadi family; she is an
insolent, American-raised hottie who is
entirely too aware of her devastating effect
on the gradually emerging hormones of
the teenage boys around her, particularly
Arik.
This oddly mixed material has the
potential for disaster. The Matchmaker
could have been a gruesome mix of post-
Shoah preaching, condescension to the
Sephardic neighbors and cheap shots at
America, as well as an oafish revival of
the Lemon Popsicle franchise of dopey sex
comedies. At the very least, given his pre-
vious films like Turn Left at the End of the
World and The Secrets, Nesher might have
opted for bathos and forced sentimentality.
Instead, he takes a complicated series
of plot lines and intertwines them deftly
so that they comment on one another
without undue finger-pointing. He weaves
an entirely believable and yet frequently
enchanted milieu in which everyone has
secrets, everyone has suspicions, and no
one is privileged to the truth, a world
in which, as Jean Renoir famously said,
"Everyone has their reasons, and that's the
tragedy of it."
And the comedy of it. Nesher brings a
pleasingly light touch to the film's muted
but genuine humor. Casting comic actors
like Adir Miller and Maya Dagan against
type in roles that carry tragic potential
and a deeply melancholy subtext is an
ingenious choice that makes the film's
darkest moments bearable. The result is
that The Matchmaker is a film that finds
that difficult balance between sentiment
and sentimentality, between deeply felt
emotion and a plastic substitute.



The Matchmaker, in Hebrew with
English subtitles, screens at the
Detroit Film Theatre inside the
Detroit Institute of Arts at 7 p.m.
Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m.
Sunday, Oct.19-21; and 9:30 p.m.
Saturday and 4:30 p.m. Sunday,
Oct. 27-28. $6.50-$7.50. (313) 833-
4005; tickets.dia.org .

October 18 2012

51

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