THE WEDDING PLAN (Laavor et hakir)
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Rama Burshtein
Written by: Rama Burshtein
Cast: Noa Koler, Dafi Alferon, Noa Kooler, Oded Leopold, Ronny Merhavi, Udi Persi, Jonathan Rozen, Irit Sheleg, Amos Tamam, Oz Zehavi
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 4/18/17
Opens: May 12, 2017
Rami Bushstein, who wrote and directs “The Wedding Plan” (former title “Through the Wall,” in Hebrew Laavor et hakir) contributed a less messy picture in 2012. In that previous work, an eighteen-year-old Hasidic woman is pressured into marrying an older widower per Levirate custom. This time around, Burshtein, who is strongly connected to her Hasidic community (see her picture on IMDB.com), takes a somewhat opposite view. A Michal (Noa Kooler), a thirty-two year old single woman, wants nothing more fervently than to get married. She wants to give and receive love, she does not want to be alone, and incidentally she does not want the community to pity or disparage her. Unlike Shira in “Fill the Void,” who wants nothing more than to rid herself of an arranged marriage, Michal is in despair about her single status. You get the impression that all she wants is a serious proposal: that she will accept anyone, now that Gidi (Erez Drigues) her Hasidic fiancé has dumped her, stating that he does not love her. Hey, this is something new: that Hasidim insist on loving a proposed bride when, even in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevya’s wife had to think long and hard whether she loves her husband.
You can learn things in “The Wedding Plan.” One is that ultra-orthodox women and Hasidic men go on dates. My impression is that a single woman sits home and waits for the matchmaker to send a potential husband to her whole family. In the presence of all, they sit on opposite ends of the sofa, stealing a glance here and there, and announcing straight-out whether they like the other’s looks enough to marry and have ten children.
But then, this independent-minded Michal, having to get over her despair about the rejection, goes on a number of blind dates set up by a matchmaker. First she visits a homeopathic witch doctor, Hulda (Odelia Moreh-Matalon), who after assigning Michal to pound some dough sits her down and rubs some fish oil into her face to destroy the evil eye.
We’ve seem movies before about the dating game, whether speed-dating or the traditional kind, but here she goes to restaurants such as with her meeting with a deaf mute(Jonathan Rozen) , whose signing is interpreted by a young man at the table. Then there’s that weird date with a Hasid (Udi Persi), who refuses to look at her for two hours with the excuse that he wants to believe that Michal is the most beautiful woman in the world.
A good deal of the tension in this romantic dramedy, which is more drama than comedy, is from audience betting on which man will win her hand. In any case, she’d better have her hand won fast, because Michal had been independent enough to book a wedding hall for 200 guests with Shimi (Amos Tamam), son of Hulda and owner of the hall. She pays the 15,000 shekels (about $3700 US) despite having no groom and believes that God will supply her with a man. She has 22 days. Should she accept the proposal of Yossi (Oz Zehavi), a dreamy singer with a following of beautiful women?. After all, he asked for her hand while the two were in Ukraine, visiting the shrine of Rabbi Nahman, founder of the Breslov Hasidic sect in the city of Uman (incorrectly named “Uma” in the English subtitles). But he might be too secular for her and would ask for divorce at the drop of a kippa.
As Michal, Noa Koler is an almost overwhelming force, appearing in virtually every scene, in closeups and surrounded by her friends and family. This is a slow-moving drama which succeeds quite well in familiarizing people with the customs of Haredim and ultra-orthodox Jews, and its does keep the audience guessing on the mystery man who will hopefully emerge before the eighth day of Chanukah, the date of the wedding. Too bad Haredim may be sparse in the audience given their custom of refusing to attend the cinema in general. Still this PG-rated picture could bring in an audience of Jews of other ideologies from secular to Orthodox, and may even cross over to a universal audience, since isn’t marriage the goal of people all over the world?
This is an Israeli film in Hebrew with English subtitles.
Rated PG. 110 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
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