Late marriage (Hatuna Meuheret) (Israel, 2001) *** 1/2
Written and directed by Dover Kosashvili. Photography, Dani Schneor. Editing,Yael Perlov Art direction, Avi Fahima. Music, Joseph Bardanashvili. Producers, Marek Rozenbaum & Edgard Tenembaum. Cast: Lior Louie Ashkenazi (Zaza), Ronit Elkabetz (Judith), Moni Moshonov (Yasha), Lili Kosashvili (Lily), Sapir Kugman (Madona), et al. Released by Magnolia Pictures. In Georgian and Hebrew, with English subtitles. 100 minutes. A French/Israeli co-production. In Hebrew and Georgian, subtitled. Released by Magnolia Pictures. This film is not rated.
When I saw this movie at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival I thought it was very good. When I saw it again a few days ago during August 2002, I upgraded my rating to "excellent."
Between those dates "Late Marriage" won several prizes in other festivals, swept the Israeli Academy Awards in 9 top categories, and broke the Israeli films' box-office record since 1984.
(Note. Many of the central characters play emigres from Georgia, formerly a major republic within the ex-Soviet Union. A huge number of Georgia names end with -vili or with -dze. This includes Stalin's. He was born Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili.)
In today's Tel Aviv Zaza, who grew up in Israel and might even be a "sabra" (i.e. Israeli-born,) is a 31-year old bachelor, and a student working on his Ph.D. in philosophy.
His parents firmly believe it is crucial that he get married. Aided by matchmaking friends and relatives they have already introduced him to "one hundred" potential brides, unsuccessfully. The girls' families do think that smart, handsome Zaza is a good catch, but the man evades all commitments.
(This is not stated in the film, but I can't help thinking that for the parents of the female candidates the cultural prestige of a philosophy professor-to-be overrides matters of a modest academic income. Score a point for culture.)
The plot gets going with a wonderfully restrained group paying a visit to the latest candidate's home. She is 17, pretty, a virgin (but that's debatable, given her behavior), sexy and pan-faced. Laying her cards on the table (well, on her bed) she states to Zaza that she has professional ambitions and wants to marry a rich man. Zaza is relieved. It all suits him very nicely. One does wonder however: had the man acquiesced to the young woman, would this have been a done deal? What if she said "no" to her parents? Ah sweet mysteries of life!
In any case, the entire sequence is a howl, complete with surprises.
Soon we find out why Zaza eludes candidate after candidate. He is having a heavy affair with Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), a beautiful 34-year old divorcee, a Moroccan Jew with an adorable six-year-old daughter, Madona.
Judith and Zaza are obviously deeply in love, but the symptoms are shown without violins, sugar, assembly-line sentimentality or cliches. There is much bantering and playing of mind games. And a great deal of pretty explicit, remarkably original and humorous sex as well as nudity. Both the dialogue and the bare bodies go well beyond those in American movies-- except for porno or semi-porn--which this film emphatically is not. Instead, what we see and hear bring out most inventively the strong, special rapport between the man and the woman.
Zaza's parents, set on discovering the reasons for their failure in finding a wife for their son resort to spying which leads to their discovery of Judith. This, in turn, leads to major confrontations.
That she is a divorced mother is bad enough. That she is from Morocco makes things worse yet. While no major point is made of it there is the underlying "racism," the old clannish stance which in its mildest form may, in some cases, make Sefaradim and Ashkenazim incompatible (that's a mild term I am using.) And a North African descent could introduce a larger gap between Moroccan Jews and European ones.
I wonder if in the U.S.A. there was not, in the past and in matters of marriage, a cleavage between Northerners and Southerners - and, mind you, I'm not thinking of the Civil War.
Parenthetically let me mention that one of the most beautiful women I ever saw on TV was an Ethiopian Jew who had recently emigrated to Israel.
What, however, Zaza's folks pounces on most forcibly is the age of the lady (34) and its mismatch with Zaza's (31.) In the presence of both lovers, the older people deliver litanies on the respective ages of the couples in the extended family. The brides, you guessed it, were invariably younger than the grooms.
Without this major stumbling block--which extends world-wide beyond the Zaza tribe-the other objections might have been overcome, especially as Mom begins to feel a liking for Judith.
Anyway you look at it, it's a messy situation. In the process, some other things about Zaza get revealed during the controversy. Earlier, we found out that he was driving a Lancia, a fine and pricey Italian car. Later, we learn that his current source of income is his father's credit card. Small, telling touches of this sort flesh out the nature of the man, and also stress his loving parents' generosity.
As changes and surprises keep cascading, the realism of the film is enriched. It is all done with a discreet, solid avoidance of Hollywoodian clichés-down to the finale.
This as far as I will go with my description. For one thing, summing up the movie is a fruitless exercise. For another, well over and above the theme of Georgian-style arranged marriages it flows with a host of rich details, unusual, funny as well as unfunny.