The middle-aged man sits childlike in a bathtub while his matronly wife rubs soap into his scalp. He yells at her, she yells back, but ultimately does his bidding.
This is the portrait of married life that greets us at the beginning of Late Marriage, the first feature film by a new Israeli director, Dover Kosashvili. The film explores relationships between men and women, parents and children, and Georgian and Algerian Jews in Israel. In the world of this film, a marriage between a Georgian and an Algerian Jew in Israel would be an intermarriage, and the parents of the man step in to prevent it.
Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi), the central character, is thirty-one, still working on his Ph.D., and unmarried--a condition his relatives find deplorable. He has already been introduced to at least one hundred "suitable" women by his parents, but has found none of them acceptable. We see him reluctantly introduced to yet another.
Ironically, while her relatives emphasize how submissive and docile she is, the woman Zaza encounters appears strong and feisty, with a mind of her own. Both she and Zaza have agreed to the meeting while inwardly resisting. Neither seems willing to marry the other.
From the unsuccessful arranged meeting, Zaza heads straight to the home of his lover Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), a divorced woman with a young daughter, where he arrives carrying bags of groceries. Judith's first words to Zaza are "In or out?"--a question that summarizes the essence of their relationship. Zaza hasn't made up his mind whether he wants to commit himself to this relationship or break up with her, which his parents want. For Zaza's parents, Judith is an unacceptable daughter-in-law: her heritage is not Georgian, and she is a single mother who is three years older than their son.
In a powerful scene, Zaza's parents and relatives storm into Judith's apartment and insult her, calling her a "whore" and berating her for not keeping her house clean enough. Zaza's father accuses Judith of being a grown woman having a relationship with a "little boy." At thirty-one, Zaza is no little boy, although he may still act like one.
Forced to choose between Judith and his mother, Zaza chooses his mother. Athough he then tries to get Judith back, she is no longer willing.
At the end, we see Zaza's wedding to a woman he does not appear to love. He looks lost, unable to take hold of his life and make it what he wants. He has chosen to be a little boy, doing what his parents tell him to do. Like the man in the bath in the opening scene, Zaza will be mothered by his wife, a woman to whom he does not want to be married.
In Late Marriage, Kosashvili succeeds in creating believable relationships and scenes as well as interesting and complex characters. In addition, he elicits uniformly excellent performances from his cast. Ronit Elkabetz is utterly believable as Judith, both in her interactions with Zaza and with her daughter Madonna. Ashkenazi's Zaza feels authentically bewildered and lost, unable to figure out how to make everyone, including himself, happy.
The film received multiple Israeli Oscar awards: Elkabetz won as best actress; Ashkenazi won as best actor; Kosashvili won for best screenplay, best director and best film; and Yael Perlov won as best editor.
Late Marriage contains some steamy sex scenes, all of which were in good taste and captured moments not usually seen in film: a woman's instructions to her lover to pull out before climaxing, a man and woman each faking orgasm, and a woman checking herself for semen after making love.
At a time when the crisis in the Middle East dominates the news, seeing a film that focuses on other aspects of Israeli life--such as the culture of Georgian Jews in Israel--offers a delightful respite.
Late Marriage is being shown in some cities around the country. In Boston, co-sponsored by the Boston Jewish Film Festival and the Museum of Fine Arts, it will be shown at the Museum at the following times: June 5 (8:10 p.m.), June 6 (5:30 p.m.), June 7 (8:10 p.m.), June 8 and 9 (3:45 p.m.), June 12, 13, and 14 (6 p.m.), June 15 (2 p.m.) and June 16 (4: 10 p.m.).