- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

"Late Marriage," playing at Visions Cinema and Bistro Lounge in Northwest Washington, is likely to come as a revelation to art-house audiences, but maybe not such a welcome one.
The Israeli import is written and directed by Dover Kosashvili, a cold-eyed observer of domestic intimacy and clannishness who may reincarnate traces of the late Billy Wilder. The movie proves to be an unusually sinister exercise in family and matchmaking comedy.
It involves Georgian immigrants in Tel Aviv who seem to have prospered in their adopted country but remain determined to preserve complete obedience to parental authority, especially when it comes to courtship and marriage.
A middle-aged couple named Yasha and Lily (Moni Moshinov and Lili Kosashvili, the filmmaker's own mother, an inside joke that ceases to be amusing at a certain point) are impatient to seal a match for their bachelor son, Zaza (Lior Loui Ashkenazi), comfortably domiciled in an apartment across the street from his mother and father and leisurely pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at age 31.
We witness a failed mercenary expedition in which Zaza accompanies his parents to the apartment of a family with a supposedly marriageable daughter of 17, Ilana (Aya Steinovits Laor). The folkways permit the prospective bride and groom to converse in her bedroom while the families get on each other's nerves in the parlor. Ilana shows Zaza her sketchbook she wants to design sexy outfits and informs him that she would prefer a rich suitor. This is before she invites a bit of dalliance that he can easily deduce as bogus.
Her younger sister is lurking under the bed, where she has retrieved a magic charm hidden on the sly by Lily the foreskin of an 8-day-old. Your temptation to laugh at superstitions this grotesque are trumped sooner or later by the sincerity of the people who preserve them. The movie convinces you that they might be pretty ruthless about preservation.
Ilana becomes the latest of numerous rejections for Zaza, who has been playing for time. When he generously observes, "You're too much for me," she retorts, "Tell me something I don't know." His love life is already being gratified by an affair with a divorcee named Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), an alliance destined to be demolished when his impatient parents get wise and stake out her apartment.
Before the parents descend in force, accompanied by similarly indignant, intimidating friends and relatives, the director sustains a remarkable romantic interlude between Zaza and Judith, the mother of a precocious 6-year-old named Madonna.
Evidently, Zaza's existence has remained slightly veiled from the little girl, who is nevertheless aware that her mother has a boyfriend. Mr. Kosashvili demonstrates an aptitude for erotic candor that surpasses anything in recent memory. He may devote as much as half an hour to the sex play of Zaza and Judith, blending the realistic, idiosyncratic and incisive in ways that remind you that hard-core porn doesn't necessarily have an advantage when it comes to summarizing experience of this nature.
The subsequent confrontation with Zaza's parents, who threaten Judith with bodily harm if she doesn't cooperate in a breakup, exposes the cowardice lurking in their son's diffidence. He isn't prepared to defy parental authority, in part because they have the purse strings in an iron grip but also because he's a spoiled pet at bottom. The extent of his self-loathing dependence is reaffirmed during the finale, and the last word on this subject is terminally creepy. When the heat is put on Judith, it becomes clear that Zaza is nobody's hero.
Some aspects of the conflict and social setting are bound to be obscure to outsiders. Yasha tells Judith she's unfit for two reasons: She's a divorcee and also three years older than his son. Both those disqualifications also put murder in the eye of Lili. Judith is also of Moroccan extraction, which may be an additional factor against her but that never surfaces in so many words or so many words that get translated in the subtitles.
Although the parents seem financially comfortable, one never learns what profession Yasha may have practiced. It's possible that Israelis read Yasha and his cronies as former gangsters at a glance.
Despite a moviegoer's lingering ignorance of the nuances, "Late Marriage" packs an emotional wallop. The conciliatory conventions of American matchmaking comedy don't carry any weight in this setting. Anyone who assumes that a genuine love match will be sufficient justification for relatives to rally around the loving couple are in for a rude, alienating surprise.

** 1/2
TITLE: "Late Marriage"
RATING: No MPAA rating (adult subject matter and treatment, with occasional profanity, sexual candor, nudity and domestic conflict; a sustained sequence of sexual intimacy, including simulated intercourse)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Dover Kosashvili. Cinematography by Dani Schneor. Decor by Avi Fahima. Costumes by Maya Barsky. In Georgian and Hebrew with English subtitles
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS



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