November 21, 2002

Cornell Cinema

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A beautifully-acted, heart-rending story of a family of Georgian immigrants living in Israel, Late Marriage is an exploration of the continued prevalence of cultural traditionalism in modern society. The family in this film seems to have been ripped out of some past time — stubbornly traditional, they cling to the idea of the arranged marriage and consider it shameful that their son, Zaza, is unmarried at 31.

Zaza (given a complex characterization by Lior Ashkenazi) is in fact, as we soon learn, torn between two loves: love of his fiercely traditional parents, and love of an older divorced woman, Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), who has a six year-old daughter. As his parents bring him to see hundreds of potential brides, Zaza is all the while maintaining his secret relationship with Judith, knowing full well that his parents would never allow him to marry her — in fact, they seem disturbed, more than anything, by her age (four years older than him) than by her divorce or her child.

In contrast to their traditional/religious values, Zaza’s family is seemingly well-off, and he is provided for very nicely with a modern apartment and all kinds of electronic equipment while he is studying for his doctorate in the humanities. Zaza himself is a thoughtful, contemplative young man, playful and jocose in everything he does. He loves Judith, but never takes his relationship with her seriously enough to challenge his parents. Once confronted, he becomes a sniveling, somewhat pathetic man-child, and his transformations throughout the movie are fascinating to watch.

In addition to Ashkenazi, the entire cast is wonderful. The ensemble truly comes to life in one stunning scene when Zaza’s entire family, after following him around to find out about his secret affair, burst in on him and Judith at her apartment. As the women pry and poke through Judith’s refrigerator and sniff at her oven, the men sit the couple down for a maddening conversation where Zaza’s father points out how every marriage in his family is between an older man and a younger woman — “that’s just the way we do things,” he says. The scene is shot perfectly to capture the claustrophobic, hopeless effect this has on the two lovers. Everyone in the scene is enclosed by the tight, cramped apartment that seems to be caving in on them all from every side.

That one scene totally encapsulates everything that this movie is about. At times almost comic in its absurdity (as when Zaza’s mother hides a love charm under a prospective wife’s bed, only to have the girl’s mother later place the charm in a bottle of similar objects), the film’s heart is in its serious, sad treatment of Zaza’s doomed romance.

As an exploration of the role that traditional values play in modern society, this film is an incredible cultural thesis. But even more impressive than its social overtones is the way in which it brings an undeniable humanity to all the characters in the film. No matter how dreadful the actions of Zaza’s parents may seem to Western audiences, they are never portrayed as soulless monsters; they’re just well-meaning people with different beliefs. This essential humanity is what keeps the film from being a stock social critique. The director is simply telling a story that’s compelling and interesting even without imparting any deeper meaning onto it.

Archived article by Ed Howard