פעם הייתי/The Matchmaker

I saw this film this evening as part of the Louisville Jewish Film Festival. It’s a largely sweet and nostalgic comedy with some surprising teeth. Like so many films that I find interesting, it’s also a picture of a time, a place, and a culture: there is a specific intergenerational and intercultural dynamic which is perhaps uniquely 60s-Israel, which suffuses the film: even among the young people, there are clear distinctions on a piety/nationalism/radicalism spectrum, with different young people subscribing to different views of what being Israeli really means. Of course that pales in comparison to the distinction between and among the older generation: the Holocaust survivors are a breed apart, and soberingly presented as not pitied but rather shunned. It’s easy to see how people get Survivor’s Guilt, when they’re in a culture full of Survivor Blame, and this film is merciless in presenting the basic rift in communication and understanding between those who survived and those who wonder just how they survived. This is quite possibly the coyest Holocaust film I’ve ever seen: the Holocaust itself is barely mentioned, but the spectre of its legacy hangs pretty heavy, and in unconventional ways.

While this intercultural drama is part of the experience delivery, and a very intriguing part, the film is, on the whole, a comedy, with likable characters bouncing off of each other in clever ways. There are recurring gags, such at Yankele’s overreliance on the exact same lines for every customer, and a tremendous amount of situational absurdity, and it is, for the most part, quite funny enough to keep the film moving in between the dramatic bits. The acting is generally solid: the entire cast is competent, and Adir Miller puts on an inspired performance which is believably sentimental. The only element of the story that really fell flat for me was the Arik-Benny-Tamara love triangle: Benny was fleshed out so sparsely, and even Tamara was fairly one-note, and that particular aspect of the plot felt flat and in large part irrelevant.

On technical notes it was mostly satisfactory, although some of the editing decisions seemed questionable: on more than one occasion a scene cut out without fanfare after a rather non-final-seeming line of dialogue. It didn’t seem that this technique was used with any deliberate purpose in mind; I assume that either the script or the editing was unintentionally abrupt, which doesn’t speak well to the technical aspects.

A word of warning, which may be an issue only of pre-releases and not of the actual stateside DVD: the subtitles are rendered in white (without the usual black border on subtitle script), which makes them very difficult to see when anything white is on the bottom of the shot. On the subject of the subtitles, they are sometimes haltingly ungrammatical or unidiomatic, but only when one of the Holocaust survivors is speaking, so I’d tend to put this one in the “faithful reproduction of aslightly mangled Hebrew” box (unless someone who speaks Hebrew tells me otherwise).

See also: IMDB.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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