On Monday, we pulled back a bit. I spent the afternoon in a packed multiplex enjoying a documentary on Winston Churchill, his rise to power and handling of the early years of World War II. Wendy met me later for dinner, then we celebrated Valentine’s Day with a romantic Comedy, The Names of Love, a French film that manages to be funny while exploring a wide range of issues – politics and war; the meaning of love and causes of hate; nationalism, colonialism and a bunch of other isms, childhood angst and the Holocaust. Did I mention there was nudity?
As you might imagine, much great and grand cinema is floating about in my noggin at the moment. But if asked to pick “Best of Show” right now, I’d cast my vote for The Matchmaker, an Israeli film featuring fine acting, glorious cinematography and a multi-layered story that manages to be both funny and heartbreaking.
The film takes place in 1968 and is set in Haifa. It plays out in flashback, a coming-of-age drama centered around one very special summer in the life of Arik Burstein. Arik becomes the go-to spy for Yankele Bride, a matchmaker extraordinaire and small-time smuggler still struggling with a hefty load of emotional baggage and physical problems picked up as a victim of the Holocaust.
There are no Nazi stormtroopers parading about in The Matchmaker, no graphic scenes of atrocities and death. The Holocaust, however, is at the heart of the film, nibbling around the edges, informing the lives and actions of almost all the characters in one fashion or another.
Yankele spends his days at the foot of Mt. Carmel, in a commercial section of Haifa filled with a stunning cast of misfits, a colorful assortment of laborers and losers. They go about their lives, pushing aside their demons, wary and struggling to make sense of a world that had once gone completely mad. Clara Epstein, lovely and broken, is hanging on by her fingertips.
She and Yankele have formed an uneasy partnership, working together to make a living; soul mates living in a bright, new world that for them remains dark and melancholy. After all, they survived. The Matchmaker dares to ask “how?”
It’s a sensitive and morally complex issue, the suggestion being that on some level everyone who survived did something reprehensible to live through the hell that captured so many others. Ultimately, it’s a question that leads to tragedy in the film.
Pretty heavy stuff, right? Fortunately, the filmmaker balances it all out with Arik, focusing on his work for Yankele – your basic fish-out-of-water shenanigans – and sexual awakening. Did I mention there was nudity?
The Matchmaker stars Adir Miller, a well-known standup comic and TV personality in Israel; Maya Dagan and Tuval Shafir. It’s one of those films that’s fun to watch and, just maybe, important to see. Interested? There’s a good chance you can find it on Netflix.