March 8, 2012

Punching Above Your Weight

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It’s so hard nowadays to come across films with inventive content, not just a tried-and-true story with a twist but a truly original idea. The Israeli comedy A Matter of Size is one of those hidden gems combining a unique narrative with superb execution. Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor direct this hilariously heartwarming story of four, morbidly obese men trying desperately to feel comfortable in their own skin.  The film’s opening scene takes us to a school in Israel, where an overweight boy is standing in line to get measured and weighed. His face is a mixture of trepidation and apprehension. Fast-forward to present day Israel and that little boy, now a grown man, is going through the same ordeal. The mature face on the screen perfectly mirrors the reluctance his younger self seen moments earlier. The uncomfortable man is Herzl (Itzik Cohen) and he is about to get kicked out of his weight-loss group due to his ever-increasing weight. His demotion at work immediately after — because “customers have been complaining … about (his) appearance” — shames him into quitting. After finding work at a Japanese restaurant, he makes a discovery that lights up his insecure world  — sumo wrestling. Here is a sport where overweight people are not only valued but most importantly, honored. This is a notion that, well, completely shatters Herzl’s mind and self-image. Inspired, Herzl convinces his three best friends Aharon (Dvir Benedek), Gidi (Alon Dahan) and Sami (Shmulik Cohen) to quit the group and join him in sumo training with his Japanese boss. Add an overbearing mother and a beautiful girlfriend (who has been emotionally scarred by men in the past) to the mix and you have the perfect ingredients for your one-of-kind movie. A Matter of Size is one of those rare combinations of “feel-good” movies with substance. The director duo has crafted a finely-tuned story of self-identity and the obstacles littered along the path to self-knowledge. These hurdles come from their surroundings and most importantly, themselves. The harshest critics these characters face are found in their own reflections when they take a peek at themselves in the mirror.  The four men are psychologically stunted.   They cling to the same self-destructive mentality, assuming that the world views them as nothing more than obese. Sumo serves as the vehicle toward their enlightenment and transforms each of them into mature adults comfortable in their own bodies. One wrestler realizes his identity as a gay man while another discovers that his marital problems arisesnot from his weight but are simply because he has turned into a terrible husband. Each person finally grows up.  Herzl’s large, liquid eyes are a window into his soul. With one look he can convey all his emotions at once. Sorrowful glances, angry stares, happy tears all come together in his face. The acting is fluid and effortless. All the movie ctors are overweight in reality, making the show even more believable. This is evident throughout the entire 90 minutes of the film. The soundtrack, albeit nothing extraordinary, successfully highlights certain scenes. The directors choose to use it sparingly; the main focus in this film is body, not sound. Emotions are conveyed through facial expressions.  An American remake of the film is scheduled to be directed sometime in the near future by Jon Turteltaub. Yes, that Turteltaub, the same director behind the National Treasure film franchise and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. What he is doing in charge of the remake of A Matter of Size is baffling to say the least. No matter, everyone knows the sad fate that so often befalls remakes of foreign films (Death at a Funeral anyone?) It would be wise to see this film before the American version of it comes out, tempting to forgo the original. That would be a tragic mistake.  This film leaves everyone with questions to mull over long after the lights come on. Complete satisfaction with the way one looks eludes most people. In a way, one might view this story as a different kind of “coming-of-age” film, but a more subtle chronicle of growing up. The changes dictating this film aren’t as blatant as the physical changes of a teenager’s body or the first love he experiences; they are of the sweeter, softer kind. These transformations allow the characters to be at peace with themselves and those around them. Who knew sumo could do all that?

Original Author: Eleni Konstantopoulos