Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill
Starring: Lior Ashkenazi, Ronit Elkabetz, Moni Moshonov, Lili Koshashvili, Aya Steinovits Laor, Rozina Cambus, Simon Chen, Sapir Kugman | Written and Directed by: Dover Koshashvili
“Late Marriage,” an Israeli film by director Dover Kosaahvili, is the story of one small battle in the war between tradition and modernity. Neither side wins a decisive victory, and the war goes on, but this film focuses not so much on the outcome as on the process of confrontation and compromise which keeps the two sides from destroying themselves and their community. Both sides suffer significant losses, but there is something that remains intact at the end, something of value that helps the combatants accept the price they have had to pay for the peace.
I’m sure most reviewers and many viewers disagree with my conclusion. All the reviews I read talk about the film’s ending as a moment when the characters lose everything: their life-force, their future, their soul. I can’t see a doomsday scenario here. The groom who gave up his true love to make his parents happy winds up with a beautiful, and understanding (moreso than he deserves) bride, and he still has his parents around to get him out of a jam and to pay his bills. His traditional family, imperfect as it is, forces him to choose between the do-it-if-it-feels-good edicts of the sexual revolution and the sacred, if unexciting, traditions of his Georgian Jewish family roots. It’s a shaky victory for the family, and you can feel the temporarily beaten down forces getting up on their feet and rattling the gates, but custom has stood guard, and I can’t see how anyone is any worse off.
The main character, Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi) is a 31 year old bachelor whose parents, emigres to Tel Aviv from Soviet Georgia, are trying to find him a wife. Everyone in Zaza’s extended family is involved in the pursuit. They offer introductions, advice, and even a talisman that may help the courtship along. Zaza, however, isn’t interested. He can’t even bring himself to dress appropriately—his favorite color seems to be a cowardly, undistinctive yellow—or speak his mind during gatherings which are organized for his benefit. He prefers to sneak off and rendezvous with Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), the woman he truly loves. The hitch is that Judith is a divorcee with a 6 year old daughter. The other hitch, the one that really steams Zaza’s father is that Judith is 3 years older than Zaza, and the Georgian tradition forbids men to marry women who are older than they are. Zaza’s father explains to Judith that in all marriages “the man is older” while Zaza’s mother complains that Zaza is using the family credit card to “buy groceries for a whore,” and Zaza’s aunt moans over the fact that the microwave Zaza took from her and gave to Judith has never been dirtier. I wonder what she sees in him, but it must be something special if she devises a talisman of her own in the hopes of keeping him. She is not so modern as to reject some of the same traditions that her enemies cherish.
The movie ends with a wedding, and another confrontation. Once again, Zaza’s family pulls him through and helps him land on his feet. I don’t understand how some people conclude that this is a guy who has lost his soul. Zaza is a guy who still hasn’t found his.
Kosashvili has made an intriguing film about love and how it expresses itself in different ways. There is no perfect love or ideal love or one true love here. Human love isn’t strong enough for that. There does seem to be a Divine love at work here, a providence that holds people together and sheds light and insight into the lives of husbands and wives and sons and daughters.
“Late Marriage” is a strong film even though its central character is a weak man. It holds up well because its ideas and its values are strong even if they aren’t perfect.
The characters in “Late Marriage” are all Jewish, but the ideals certainly apply to Christian teaching and Christian tradition. There is one long, explicit sex scene, but the sex is not romanticized or glorified. Occasionally some foul language is used. For the most part, “Late Marriage” is a commendable adult film. In some ways, I even found it inspiring.
In Hebrew and Georgian with English subtitles.