The Wedding Plan (Laavor et hakir)


Here comes the bride!

(2016) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) Noa Koler, Dafi Alferon, Oded Leopold, Ronny Merhavi, Udi Persi, Jonathan Rozen, Irit Sheleg, Amos Tamam, Oz Zehavi, Odelia Moreh-Matalon, Erez Drigues. Directed by Rama Burshtein

 

The desire to find the person to love, cherish and spend the rest of our lives with is pretty much endemic to every culture but in some ways, the Orthodox Jewish community puts a little extra emphasis on it. Single women of a certain age are subtly looked down upon as if there is something defective about them.

Michal (Koler) is a 32-year-old convert to the Breslov sect of Hassidic Judaism. She is a veteran of the dating scene in Israel and has the emotional scars to prove it. Finally, though, it seems like she’s found the man of her dreams – Gidi (Drigues). Michal has arranged to rent the catering hall of Shimi (Tamam) and they are sampling some of the food that is offered for various wedding parties when Gidi drops a bombshell; he doesn’t love her.

Although the wedding is off, Michal decides to keep the booking at the catering hall for the eighth night of Hanukkah. She’s tired of the searing looks that she gets from married women bringing their children to the mobile petting zoo she runs (I didn’t know that was a thing) and the nagging of her mother (Sheleg). She wants to settle down and be with someone she can share the rest of her life with and if God could part the Red Sea, He could find her a husband.

But she figured God helps those who helps themselves so she sets herself up a matchmaker who sets her up on dates with Hassidic men, each less suitable than the last. She decides to take a break to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (founder of her particular sect)  in the Ukraine and overcome with emotion, prostrates herself on the grave. She is comforted by Yoss (Zehavi), an Israeli indie rock singer who sets many a female heart to fluttering. Although she is star-struck, she strikes up a relationship with the man.

As the days start to dwindle towards Hanukkah, Michal continues to prepare for her wedding even though those around her are beginning to have their doubts. Shimi, who is in a marriage that has slowly begun to implode, offers what support he can and even though her deadline is approaching with her no closer to finding a groom than she was when Gidi said “I don’t,” her faith remains steadfast.

This is a movie that takes Hollywood romantic comedy conventions and turns them inside out while in some ways, remaining true to the gist of them – for example, most rom-com junkies will figure out the ending well in advance of the end credits. Still, world movie enthusiasts will appreciate the slice of like look at Israeli Hassidic culture, a world not often glimpsed even in Israeli cinema.

Koler is an engaging performer and she gives Michal just enough personality to give us a rooting interest. Michal is emotional almost to the point of hysteria in places and she spends a good deal of the movie crying. Her decisions don’t always make logical sense but she is always true to her emotional framework. Some will see this as misogynistic in the sense that the view of women is that their place in life is to be married to a husband who has essential control of the relationship but at the same time Michal is a fairly independent sort who seems to be able to take care of herself pretty well without a husband. One wonders if Burshtein who is also Hassidic is making a sly-handed comment on the somewhat archaic view of the role of women within the Hassidic community.

Like many rom-coms, the premise is unrealistic in many ways; while Michal has a great deal of faith, she also seems logical enough to understand that faith alone isn’t going to cut it. And yes, while she does take steps to find herself a groom, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between her religious faith and her independence. I’m not saying that independent women can’t be religious, only that the independent women I know tend to be practical as well and putting one’s faith in God in this manner doesn’t seem terribly practical. I honestly think this is more a commentary on how unmarried women are looked at in the Hassidic faith rather than a primer on what to do to find a husband.

In any case, I suspect that those who love romantic comedies are going to enjoy this, even though it is less a comedy than a slice of life. Those who enjoy exploring different cultures through the movies will really enjoy this. Fans of Israeli cinema will also enjoy this a great deal. Those who don’t like any of those things will likely not find much to like here, although if they are more adventurous souls who like to see movies that don’t necessarily have superheroes, aliens or car chases in them might well be pleasantly surprised.

REASONS TO GO: The movie gives us some insight into the orthodox Jewish culture in Israel. American rom-com conventions are given an Israeli twist here.
REASONS TO STAY: This is somewhat unrealistic. The film is about 20 minutes too long.
FAMILY VALUES: Some of the themes here are of an adult nature.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Koler and Tamam both appeared on the Israeli television show Srugim as former spouses.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/4/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 29 Dresses
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Letters from Baghdad

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For Here or To Go?


A Bollywood dance number in the Silicon Valley.

(2015) Dramedy (Many Cups of Chai) Ali Fazal, Melanie Kannokada, Rajit Kapur, Amitosh Nagpal, Omi Valdya, Samrat Chakrabarti, Keith Stevenson, Damien Chen, Alan Coyne, Malavika Jayasimha, Niyati Joshi, Gaurav Dwivedi, Vij Nathan, Satish Sattnathan, Dee Marshall, Robin Oleson, Debbie Vu, Ashok Tangri, Gursimran Singh, Richa Sukla, Anita Vora. Directed by Rucha Humnabadkar

 

Immigration is a hot button topic these days. Often it seems that immigration of any kind – even the legal sort – is anathema to some. It is fact, however, that more illegal immigrants overstay their temporary visas than climb over walls and cross rivers. It is the most common form of illegal immigration.

Not that Vivek Pandit (Fazal) is considering it. He is a talented programmer who has come up with some software that will make a difference; even though he is working for a large company that doesn’t appreciate him, a new start-up is more than interested in his software and it looks like a lucrative offer is imminent.

The problem is that time is running out on Vivek’s visa – he has a year left until he must leave. The start-up really doesn’t have the manpower or the inclination to help him get his green card and the offer falls apart. Frustrated, Vivek looks to try and get his immigration status sorted out.

With him are his roommates Sam (Chakrabarti) who has a zest for life and a somewhat indefatigable attitude and Lakshmi (Valdya) who is a gay man and is terrified of telling his parents, which further fuels his desire to remain in the United States permanently. All three are facing their own immigration issues; while all are making good money in Silicon Valley, none of them are willing to buy furniture while their immigration status is in limbo.

Vivek also meets Shveta (Kannokada) at a Bollywood speed dating event  and the two hit it off, but once again Vivek’s uncertain future prevents the couple from truly exploring the possibilities their relationship could offer.

Although the movie first made its first appearance at San Jose’s Cinequest Film Festival back in 2015 (appropriately enough since it’s set there) it’s just getting a theatrical release now and it certainly is as timely now as it was then if not more so. Considering the ruling party’s seeming disdain for the role of immigrants in our society and a feeling that the system which is clearly broken and in need of fixing that it is not going to get anytime soon this could make for compelling viewing had the filmmakers not gone the light touch route.

Fazal is an appealing and handsome lead and exudes charm, charisma and screen presence. He could very easily become a romantic lead in major studio films if Hollywood weren’t so squeamish about casting Indian men in anything but villainous roles. He has done a couple of Hollywood films (including Furious 7) and looks to have a very promising career ahead of him.

The movie has a lot of energy and even does a Bollywood-style musical number in Silicon Valley (which is about as surreal as it gets). Having lived and worked in that area for more than 12 years prior to coming to Orlando, I will admit that some of the settings in America’s tech capital brought back some memories that gave me the warm fuzzies. That won’t be true for everybody but do take that into account when reading this.

While the romance between Vivek and Shveta seemed to be somewhat by-the-numbers, there were a couple of scenes that generated some heat. However the romance seemed a bit more of a distraction than a central aspect of the plot. Given the subject of the systemic issues of immigrating to America which I think would make a great movie, it’s a bit disappointing that it is treated more as a light comedy rather than a serious issue.

Don’t get me wrong though; this is very entertaining, charming and sweet. The leads are likable and good-looking. There is a lot of energy in the film and you can tell it was made with affection and joy. All of these are very good things indeed. I think the movie was trying to skirt the line between being light entertainment and a serious issue film and ends up falling over the light entertainment precipice. Perhaps someone else will make a film from the legal immigrant’s standpoint that will shed some needed light on this controversial issue.

REASONS TO GO: Something like a Bollywood film in an American setting, the film takes on the complexity and frustration of our immigration system. It’s buoyant and fun upon occasion.
REASONS TO STAY: The romantic aspect seems a bit rote. The subject matter is often given a much more lightweight handling than it deserves.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity and a scene of sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the feature-length debut of director Rucha Humnabadkar.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/31/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Outsourced
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg

The Double Hour (La doppia ora)


The Double Hour (La doppia ora)

Kseniya Rappoport may be emerging behind murky glass but the picture is growing no clearer.

(2009) Thriller (Goldwyn) Kseniya Rappoport, Filippo Timi, Antonia Truppo, Gaetano Bruno, Fausto Russo Alesi, Michele Di Mauro, Lorenzo Gioielli, Lidia Vitale, Lucia Poli, Giorgio Colangeli, Chiara Nicola, Gilda Postiglione Turco. Directed by Giussepe Capotondi

Some movies can’t really be described in too much detail without giving away vital twists and turns. The Italian thriller The Double Hour is a lot like that. That’s why the plot description is going to be a bit bare and vague.

Guido (Timi) is an ex-cop whose wife passed away three years earlier (we never find out how) and has become a somewhat diffident aficionado of speed dating. He is somewhat attractive in a hangdog kind of way, and his attempts at speed dating often lead to one night stands with desperate women (Vitale) that leave him unfulfilled.

He meets Sonia (Rappoport) at one of these. She is a Slovenian who has immigrated to Turin and is working as a hotel chambermaid. Recently she was witness to a horrific occurrence there. She is lonely and bored and is urged by her friend Margherita (Truppo) to get out more. She goes to the same speed date and runs into Guido.

Something happens between the two. The beginnings of a relationship begin to form. He invites her to the country estate where he is currently working as a security guard, showing her some of the sound equipment he’s built from scratch. They go for a walk in the idyllic countryside grounds of the estate. That’s when things go decidedly and horribly wrong.

Capotondi has a background in music videos. He utilizes music nicely, such as The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” which shows up in a more sinister way than perhaps Robert Smith ever envisioned his song becoming. Capotondi has said in interviews that he is influenced by Italy’s giallo horror films of Dario Argento and his brethren. Sections of the movie show it quite clearly. He also seems to have a thing about Hitchcock, as portions of the movie also show. There are also some Brian de Palma moments as well. The movie is at various times a supernatural thriller, a heist picture, a romantic drama and an art film. You can decide what description is most apt on your own.

The acting is superb here. Rappoport has been getting a great deal of acclaim for her performance. She has moments where she seems as fragile as a waif, lost and lonely. There are other times where she is strong and assertive, particularly when she is dealing with Guido’s fellow policeman Dante (Di Mauro) who has some suspicions regarding events at the villa.

The movie is surreal in places and will leave you with your head spinning. You almost wish you had a rewind button in the theater, thinking to yourself, did I just see what I think I saw? In some ways it will be less effective on DVD/Blu-Ray because people will be using their rewind buttons and slow-mo features which might spoil some of the surprises.

Subtitles will turn some off, and so will the abrupt mood and style shifts. There is one shift in particular, between the second and third act that is jarring to the point where you almost wonder if the filmmakers decided they didn’t like the script, junked it and started a new one at that point. It may make purists a little perturbed.

Still, this is a movie worth hanging in there for. The twists and turns here are amazing, as good as any movie since perhaps The Sixth Sense or Memento. This is a movie that is as good as any theme park ride, and those who are willing to go along for the ride won’t be disappointed. Just beware: this is not a kiddy ride in any sense. This is a ride only for those who aren’t afraid of adult thrills. This is that roller coaster with so many inversions you don’t know which way is up when you get off the ride and the only thing you can think about is getting right back on for another shot. The Double Hour (which refers to the time on the digital clock when the hour readout is the same as the minute readout, such as 10:10 or 12:12 – or 23:23 for those European readers) is like that, and it’s the kind of movie that bears repeated viewings and will certainly inspire some discourse once you’ve seen it the first time.

REASONS TO GO: Wonderful twists and turns. Haunting performance by Rappoport. This is the kind of movie that inspires spirited discussions.

REASONS TO STAY: One of the movie’s major twists is so abrupt that some might find it off-putting.

FAMILY VALUES: Although not rated, there is some sexuality and nudity, a bit of bad language and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rappoport won the Volpi Cup as Best Actress at the 66th Venice Film Festival in 2009.

HOME OR THEATER: Chances are you will have trouble finding it at your local Bijou, but should work just as effectively on your home screen.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo