As I Once Was (original title) 112 min. Directed by Avi Nesher and starring
Adir Miller, Maya Dagan, Tuval Shafir. IMDB page. In Hebrew with English subtitles.
The Matchmaker is a coming of age story set in 1950s Haifa, Israel, about love among the loners and the marginalized of Israeli society as well as its privileged young. Arik is a well-off teenager with nothing to do for the summer; a prank lands him a job with Yankele Bride, a self-styled matchmaker working on the docks finding love for those whom life has left behind. His clients are misfits and outcasts, nerds and weirdos. Yankele, a Holocaust survivor, counts himself among them. He's in love with Clara, a fellow survivor who also finds herself on the margins of the young and ambitious Jewish state. It seems that there's a certain divide between the newcomers and established Israelis; those already settled in view the survivors with mistrust and skepticism. The newcomers just want to be left alone, allowed to build a life and find happiness, something that might not always be so easy.
|Yankele (Adir Miller), Clara (Maya Dagan) and Arik (Tuval Shafir) strategize over coffee.|
Tension builds when Meir, a lonely librarian, becomes a client of Yankele's and falls hard not for the woman Yankele picks for him but for lovely Clara. Clara views Meir as nothing more than a client and finds Meir's unwanted attentions creepy at first, then outright threatening when he tries to rat Yankele out to the police for his off-the-books lifestyle. Arik, who brought Meir to Yankele, has to choose a side, and fast. Meanwhile, Arik has his own adventures; he finds he likes the job of spying on Yankele's clients, ferreting out information about them and bringing it back. And he's got a major crush on pretty Tamara, an Iraqi Jew spending the summer with her relatives before her father takes her back to America.
|Meir (Dror Keren) and Arik on one of Haifa's many stone staircases|
As you can tell there's a lot going on, and the movie is a long almost two hours. There's a subplot about an Orthodox girl Arik is assigned to watch that ends up involving Tamara and her cousin, presenting another conflict for Arik, which probably could have been eliminated without consequence to to the film. Otherwise I found the movie to be a fairly light and enjoyable distraction. There are some interesting, discussion-worthy things going on about various racial and cultural tensions between Ashkenazic Jews like Arik's family and Middle Eastern Jews from Iran and Iraq, as well as the mistrust between some earlier-arrived Israelis and the Holocaust survivors, not to mention the reticence around the Holocaust at this time in Israeli history, a stark and surprising contrast to the omnipresence of the subject in later years. Arik's parents and friends actively discourage him from learning about the Holocaust; nobody, particularly the survivors, want to talk about it or deal with it. It will take time and distance for folks to want to open up about their experiences, but right now, when the film is set, people just aren't ready to deal with either their personal or collective trauma.
So other than it being a bit on the long side, I enjoyed The Matchmaker on several levels. It was entertaining and beautiful to look at; director Nesher makes both the middle class and down-and-out parts of Haifa look great, with lovely seascapes, city steps and rooftops at every turn. The characters, especially Yankele and Clara, were engaging and Tamara, the bold country cousin, was delightful, tough and smart as played by Neta Porat. Arik was a little dull and generic-privileged-white-boy but whatever. And there's lots to think about and talk about, too.
The movie is not rated; there is some female nudity and adult themes.
Rating: RENT (movie equivalent of Backlist)
FTC Disclosure: I received complimentary passes from Menemsha Films in exchange for my review.