Nothing beats starting a film with “guarded optimism” & ending it completely entranced. Yes, I try to go into every new film “living in hope” (as my Richard always says: “No one sets out to make a bad movie!”), but sometimes it’s hard to have an open mind when your heart’s been broken in the past.
I liked Avi Nesher’s previous films Turn Left at the End of the World and The Secrets well enough, but they both ended badly for me, going off the deep end somewhere in Act 3. But his new film The Matchmaker is a perfect confection of old & young, light & dark, laughter & tears, in short: the whole Megillah!
The Matchmaker is a story told in flashback by a middle-aged writer named “Arik Burstein” (played by Eyal Shechter as an adult & Tuval Shafir as a teen). Normally a framing device like this would make me apprehensive, but here it’s totally on point. Speaking to us from Haifa circa summer 2006 (under active bombardment during the Second Lebanon War), Arik is telling us a story about Haifa circa 1968 (exactly one year after the Six-Day War), and therefore the coming-of-age depicted is Israel’s as much as his own.
Two things happen to Arik during the summer of 1968: he find his first mentor & he meets his first love (or as a Freudian might say, Arik discovers “a love & a work”). The mentor is a mysterious Holocaust survivor who calls himself “Yankele Bride” (Adir Miller); the love is “Tamara” (Neta Porat) the temporary guest of his Iraqi neighbors. The city of Haifa, filled with confidence & bursting with energy, really is built on a steep mountainside which divides the population into zones. Yankele & his friends live at the bottom, outcasts infected by their European past; Tamara & her family live at the top, already importing the cultural elements that will bring Israel ever closer to America in the future.
The cast is excellent with wonderful character actors in all the supporting roles, but the film totally belongs to Adir Miller (who just yesterday received a well-deserved Ophir Award from the Israel Film Academy). In 2008, when I saw The Secrets, I complained a bit about all the “bubbles in the caldron,” but I also wrote: “…whatever faults I may find in Avi Nesher’s work, there is no doubt he’s an expert when it comes to nurturing new talent…” I zeroed in on Miller, calling him “touching as ‘Yanki,’ the surprisingly soulful Klezmer musician.” But even the promise he showed there did not prepare me for how terrific he is here as “Yankele Bride.” All we really need to know about this man’s backstory is literally etched on his face, and Miller fills in the gaps with his body language. His performance doesn’t dwell on what survivors endured (both during AND after WWII), but rather shows us how they summoned the will to go on living.
Since I saw The Matchmaker on screener, I can’t comment on the cinematography except to say I can’t wait to see it on the big screen. But I already know I love Philippe Sarde’s simple piano score which provides a welcome respite from all the Classic Rock favorites Tamara plays on her High Fi. Sometimes, watching a film like this, I really do love my job!
Chicago International Film Festival screenings of The Matchmaker are scheduled for 10/11, 10/17, & 10/19. Click HERE to order tickets.
Tuval Shafir (left) with Adir Miller. Photo courtesy of Avi Nesher. All rights reserved.