It might seem a compliment to say that Dover Kosashvili’s comedy is like some fine wines, but it’s not: the similarity resides in that it hasn’t traveled well, either. “Late Marriage” was ecstatically received, it would appear, in its native Israel. It won nine of that country’s equivalent to the Oscars, including best picture; it was the official Israeli entry for the Academy Awards this year; and, perhaps most significantly, it took in more receipts than any other home-grown picture in nearly two decades. But from the perspective of an least one American viewer, it’s a remarkably dull, clumsily structured and lethargically rendered piece, peopled by sadly shrill and unpleasant characters; and though it’s billed as a comedy–a dark one, to be sure, but still a comedy–it generates virtually no laughs and barely even an occasional snicker. Perhaps the cultural barrier is simply too great to bridge, but whatever virtues Israeli audiences might have discerned in the film haven’t survived the oceanic crossing.
The picture falls into four large segments. In the first, Zaza (Lior Askenazi), the unmarried 31-year old son of Georgian immigrants living in Tel Aviv, is dragged by his very traditional parents Yasha (Moni Moshonov) and Lily (Lili Kosashvili, the writer-director’s mother and not a professional actress) to meet a prospective bride, a svelte teenager; this sequence is long and very slow, interesting from a sociological standpoint perhaps and boasting a few amusing moments but ultimately very tedious and plain. The second shows Zaza, following the embarrassing interview, proceeding to the apartment of his secret lover, a 34-year old Moroccan divorcee named Judith (Ronit Elkabetz) with a young daughter; much of this “scene,” as it were, is devoted to a prolonged bout of lovemaking between the two–something that’s far less exciting than one might imagine (or humorous than the makers apparently intend). The third segment has Yasha and Lily, along with other members of the family, confronting Zaza and Judith in the latter’s apartment and demanding that they break up. Once again, the pace is extremely deliberate, and much of the conversation is simply unpleasant. After some perfunctory transitional moments between Yasha and Zaza on the one hand and Lily and Judith on the other, the fourth major sequence follows: an acutely embarrassing wedding scene in which a drunken Zaza, the groom, first accosts his father in the men’s room and then delivers a speech to the guests designed, it appears, to ridicule his bride.
All of these segments are presented in an extremely plain, flat style, with an absolute minimum of technical polish and without much sense of rhythm: the picture just bumps along, often in long takes in which the camera remains stationary throughout, with a minimum of editing that might provide emphasis or distinguish the significant from the trivial. There’s also very little music, but when it does occur it seems raucous and intrusive against the colorless compositions. Dover Kosashvili’s writing is pedestrian, and so is his direction. The cast suffer as a result, most of the players coming across as either very strident (as with Moshonov) or simply dull (as with Ashkenazi and Kosashvili). The sole exceptions are young Sapir Kugman as Judith’s daughter Madona, who’s fresh and natural in comparison to the irritating adults, and Zaza’s cute dog Mooki. Unfortunately, the focus isn’t on them nearly often enough.
It may be that in Israel the sorts of rigidly traditional attitudes and prejudices depicted here are sufficiently pervasive that audiences will recognize, and appreciate, the humor surrounding them at once. But U.S. viewers aren’t likely to share the local knowledge that might allow them to share the Israeli appreciation of “Last Marriage.” For this reviewer, at least, the film was an endurance test, peopled by characters who aren’t either likable or interesting and bereft of both insight and amusement.