- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2004

“Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi,” exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema, derives its title from the salutation favored by an elderly, infirm grandfather when greeting his estimable grandson each day. A 16-year-old paragon, Shlomi (Oshri Cohen) functions as patient caretaker for the courtly but sometimes troublemaking old man (Arie Elias), cooks for a fractured household of four and attempts to calm frequently flaring hair-trigger tempers. Baking cakes and pies like a boy possessed seems to be one of his methods for inducing truces.

An Israeli Cinderfella, Shlomi is the offspring of Moroccan Sephardic Jews who reside in Tel Aviv. While squabbling and busting chops, the other members of the immediate family (with the possible exception of wily old gramps) have neglected to appreciate the wonder boy who struggles to preserve family cohesion. The movie, written and directed by Shemi Zarhin, also Moroccan by heritage and an avid amateur baker, contrives to liberate Shlomi under the noses of his oblivious loved ones.

Although Mr. Zarhin can’t be accused of being a nuanced humorist, the film has exotic novelty aspects that keep the foregone conclusions diverting. Shlomi is carrying a torch for a dismissive classmate, Tehila, who scorns his appeal to “upgrade” their relationship. To her this is a euphemism for getting carnal. The connotation seems to have eluded Shlomi, sincerely, when making the suggestion. Anyway, it’s an amusing coinage and makes you wonder what Israeli teenagers have been doing with “downsizing” and “outsourcing.”

Like the title character of “Little Man Tate,” Shlomi is revealed to be an intellectual prodigy, capable of doing complicated equations in his head with speed to rival a calculator. The social system has been shamefully slow to encourage his talents. A math teacher and principal stumble on the potential belatedly and disabuse Shlomi of the defeatist notion that he’s an academic dunce about to flunk out of high school.

The suspension of disbelief tends to implode over this point. It’s a stretch to believe that Shlomi’s estranged mother and father would never detect signs of having spawned a precocious treasure. If nothing else, you’d think that the meal-ticket prospects would occur to them.

Having been hard on the parents (and Shlomi’s two scatterbrained siblings) as a matter of wrangling, slapstick expediency, Mr. Zarhin is poorly positioned to cut the dopey characters a little slack in time for a decent reconciliation. Shlomi is awarded a clean break: He’s off to a brainiac private school in Haifa, where he’ll also set up housekeeping with a slightly older consort, Aya Koren as a post-collegiate beauty called Rona, whose devotion to gardening complements Shlomi’s passion for baking.

It might be interesting to see if Mr. Zarhin could sustain this idealized upgrade in a sequel. The serenity of the setup would probably leave him starved for gags.

*1/2

TITLE: “Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi”

RATING: No MPAA Rating (adult subject matter, with occasional profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual candor)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Shemi Zarhin. Cinematography by Itzik Portal. Production design by Ariel Glazer. Costume design by Inbal Shuki. Music by Yonatan Bar Giorz. In Hebrew with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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