THE MATCHMAKER aka ONCE I WAS (2010)
Running Time: 112 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Avi Nesher
Language: Hebrew w/English subtitles
Distributor: Menemsha Films
Cast: Adir Miller, Maya Dagan, Tuval Shafir, Dror Keren, Dov Navron, Yarden Bar-Kochba, Neta Porat, Bat-El Papura, Kobi Faraj
Ask Americans in the Forties how they spent their summer vacations and they’ll talk about playing hide-and-seek, ringalevio, marbles, territory, and best of all stickball and punchball in the gutter where success was measure by how many sewer lengths you could hit. Ask American kids in the late Sixties and you’ll hear about smoking weed, listening to Jefferson Airplane, and maybe tuning into Ravi Shankar on the sitar. Ask Israeli kids how they spent the Forties and they’ll talk about ducking bombs, working on the kibbutz, and preparing to serve in the military. And Israelis in the late Sixties? No free love: they never heard of it. No Beatles. No hide-and-seek, marbles, or stickball. Just a few thousand miles of separation and you’re in a different teen world.
Just ask Avi Nesher who directs THE MATCHMAKER a delightful, touching, sentimental and exquisitely photographed memory story, a coming-of-age tale touching on a young Israeli man’s introduction into the pleasures of a woman but with equally attention-getting stories involving a middle-aged librarian who has never dated, an older fellow who is a professional matchmaker, a blond immigrant from Eastern Europe who survived the Holocaust which has affected her relationships with men, and an Iraqi-born American girl who brings her liberated culture into Israel’s leading seaport town before returning with her dad to the States.
The movie is inspired by Amir Gurfreund’s book “When Heroes Fly” and directed by Nesher, whose previous entries to the cinema world includes DIZENGOFF 99 about a spaced-out hippie, a nerd and a sexy girl who try to produce an advertisement in Israel. When a 50-something writer, Arik Burstein (Eyal Shechter) gets a surprise windfall from the will of Yankele Bride (Adir Miller), he wonders how simply being the older man’s assistant named him the sole inheritor of the estate.
This brings him back mentally to the summer of 1968 when young Arik (Tuval Shafir) gets a job from the matchmaker, principally to spy on others in Haifa who could become clients of the man. They work out of a seedy part of Haifa where shady women, smugglers and bums hang out near a movie theater owned by a family of dwarfs, particularly Sylvia (Bat-el Papura), a desperate client of Yankele. Yankele is in love with the blond Clara Epstein (Maya Dagan), emotionally damaged by her experience during the Holocaust and thought by some to have survived by supplying “services” to the Nazis. Clara rebuffs not only Yankele but also Meir (Dror Keren), a forty-year-old virgin, who ultimately turns on her after being regularly refused. For that matter even Yankele is suspect as he, too, is a survivor. The relationship between the 17-year-old Arik and the much older Yankele anchors the film, whose MARTY-like humor comes largely from Meir’s nerdy neediness and Yankele’s aggressive attempts to recruit customers not only for money, but because he believes his mission in life is to provide love. “It is not good for man to be alone,” as Genesis 2:18 states.
The acting of the ensemble (particularly the older characters) is more than competent, the humor poignant, the unrequited love haunting. Haifa is seen as a salad bowl (not a melting pot) of secular Jews from Iraq and Romania, a few Orthodox and Arabs, living together and putting up now and then with missiles lobbed from Lebanon.
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