starring Lior Ashkenazi, Ronit Elkabetz, Moni Moshonov, Lili Koshashvili
written and directed by Dover Koshashvili
by Travis Mackenzie Hoover For those who have tired of funny family squabbles with magical reconciliations, relief is on the way. The new Israeli film Late Marriage ("Hatuna Meuheret") takes the conventional pains of a hundred bad ethnic comedies and gives them added bite; instead of a traditional family causing "hilarious" havoc on their modernized progeny, we are given a nasty tug-of-war between a need to live one's life and a desire for familial approval. Because there are no easy outs in its bitter turf battle for clashing sets of values, the film is surprisingly tense, uncomfortable, and refreshing in its serious examination of a situation that movies normally trivialize.
The protagonist Zaza (Lior Louie Asheknazi) is worrying his parents: to their bafflement, he's still unmarried at 31, despite the parade of matchmaking sessions he has dutifully attended. As the movie opens with one such rendezvous, pairing him off with a 17-year-old fashionista with even less interest in marriage than Zaza, writer-director Dover Koshasvili deftly sketches the claustrophobic atmosphere with a reliance on master shots, trapping the figures in a stifling atmosphere mirroring domestic expectations. This is especially effective when the matches repair to her bedroom for a terse exchange of mutual dislike: as the snappy dialogue hangs in the air, we see both the pervasiveness and the unpleasantness of the situation in which he has found himself.
Zaza, however, is far from lonely, having been secretly seeing a divorced single-mother named Judith (Ronit Elkabetz). Three years older than Zaza and--gasp--somewhat taller than him, she's everything his deeply traditional parents would hate. He intends to marry her just as soon as he figures out how to tell them, which, given their rigidity, will probably be never. While he waits, they make love and argue, again gaining from Koshasvili's muted set-ups; their sex is a thing lost in borrowed time, and their angry words are swallowed up in the indifferent space that surrounds them. But if Judith is not impressed with Zaza's waffling, she may get an answer sooner than both think, with his family is onto his deceitful ways and about to put a stop to his lover's claim on their precious son.
When the eventual smash-up happens, it's nothing we've come to expect from years of Woody Allen and Neil Simon wisecracks: the parents are not the comically adamant nudzes of those men, but rather irrationally hostile and oblivious to their son's happiness. The family support system, denouncing Judith as a "whore," threatens violence and wonders how a son could betray them so. One waits for a turnaround in attitude that never comes--this is not a fantasy of perfect harmony between traditional and modern, but of figuring out what to do when a no-win situation arises. And the conclusion will surprise and alarm those still pulling for the Hollywood ending while gratifying those who know that love doesn't always conquer all.
Late Marriage is far from perfect. Judith is less a character than a male bitch-goddess fantasy, and it hampers her scenes with Zaza--you never feel you really know who she is beyond her big mouth and sexy body. And while the idea behind the film's aesthetic works, the cinematography is a little too functional to make it more than adequate. But for a new spin on an old saw, the film is hugely refreshing, and well worth your time. Originally published: May 3, 2002.