Dir. Avi Nesher (2010, Israel, 118 mins.)
Something ought to be cleared up immediately: The Matchmaker is not, as the title might suggest, a romantic comedy – or even a regular comedy – at all. It is a drama through-and-through – a coming of age story and a personal tragedy set in late 60’s Haifa. The fact that the title does not translate well has something to do with the lack of literal professional matchmakers (digital ones excepted) in our society, and of course something to do with the surplus of witless romantic comedies that share the title. This problem of translation cleared up, we can move on to the film itself: it is a plunge into post-Holocaust Jewish identity, a place where a placid surface betrays treacherous undercurrents, where people struggle to come to terms with one another, and a place that never quite settles.
The characters of The Matchmaker all deal with the Holocaust – rationalize it, remember it, imagine it – in different ways, but they do so, for the most part, off camera. It is an elephant in the room that most are content to ignore, and that others refuse to call an elephant. Only Arik (Tuval Shafir), the teenager who works for the matchmaker Yankele Bride (Adir Miller), attempts to construct an understanding of the Holocaust on camera, and this is because incongruous explanations of those around him (his parents, a librarian, Yankele) force him to try and conceive of something inconceivable to those who did not experience it. Indeed, the characters who did survive the Holocaust seem to have given up trying to explain themselves to everyone else – they are trying desperately to move on.
Unfortunately, the sheer number of themes at play in this film give it a very uneven feel. Individually, each theme can be interesting, and there is no shortage to pick from: romantic jealousy, personal integrity, the clash of Woodstock values with Israeli culture, teenage romance, coming to terms with one’s parents, and sequestered grief all make prolonged appearances. It is too much to remain balanced. These threads, interesting though they may be, are not woven together well.
Nevertheless, Avi Nesher’s film is something worth seeing for the person looking for a romantic film with the guts to eschew comedy. The parts of The Matchmaker that don’t work are the result of too much substance rather than too little – a problem that most films would do well to have.
(The Matchmaker will be presented by the Toronto Jewish Film Festival on October 17th – tickets are available online or at the theatre.)