Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Tropic Cinema programmer Scot Hoard was suffering from back spasms, so he dropped this week’s screener DVD’s off at Jean Carper’s house for me to watch. He mumbled something about one called “The Matchmaker” being an interesting film, likely to open this week at the Tropic. So my movie pal Jean and I popped it into her player and watched it while noshing on meringue-heaped key lime pie in her well-appointed home theater and adjacent mini-kitchen.
We didn’t expect much. Amid his pain, Scot didn’t sell it very well to us.
However, we were delightfully surprised.
“The Matchmaker” (original title: “Pa’am Hayiti” or “Once I Was”) is an Israeli coming-of-age film written and directed by Avi Nesher. It tells of a teenage boy meeting a mysterious man who will help shape his life.
The film starts with the ending, Arik (the adult version played by Eyal Shehter) inheriting a fortune from a man who knew him in childhood, an old friend of his father’s who was a matchmaker and a smuggler in the Low Rent section of Haifa.
We learn the story in a film-long flashback: Having played a joke on this Yankele Bride (an understated performance by scar-faced Adir Miller), Arik (wonderfully played as a boy by Tuval Shafir) is hired for his skills as a liar by the matchmaker to be a “spy-guy,” sort of a detective who follows prospective grooms to see if their intentions are honorable.
In this 1968 memory, Arik meets the cousin of his friend Benny, a sexy teenager (Neta Porat) who has burned her bra and believes in free love. The boy falls for her, while at the same time fearing her – much like his relationship with the mysterious matchmaker, drawn to his wisdom while fearful of his criminal nature.
Ironically, the man who makes matches for others (“…what you need, not what you want”) cannot find love himself. His affection for Clara (Maya Dagan) who runs illegal card games is not returned, her heart frozen by her experiences as a Holocaust victim.
Unfortunately, Meir the Librarian (Dror Keren) is vengeful over being matched with a dwarf named Sylvia (Bat-El Papura) and becomes obsessively determined to unseat Yankele Bride.
Thus, childhood must come to an end.
The film is a boy’s loving memory of an unforgettable character and a summer that changed his life. I don’t know whether filmmaker Avi Nesher based “The Matchmaker” on true experiences or not, but he makes the story seem real. Authentic sets, emerging Woodstock music, the mental scars borne by Holocaust victims, their difficulty assimilating into the country created for them. And the people, pages out of a family album.
Jean and I lingered after the film ended, finishing off half the pie, and smiling at the surprise of a film we’d expected so little of. It was a good match, maybe not what we wanted, but what we needed.