The new math teacher and new school principal discover the 16-year-old underachiever failing classes is really a genius, and the kid's own family's too busy relying on him to mend family fences to notice his brilliance either.
Eliezer and Uriel Shkolnik are father and son as well as rival professors in Talmudic Studies. When both men learn that Eliezer will be lauded for his work, their complicated relationship reaches a new peak.
This is an excellent film. The cast is very good, particularly Miriam Zohar. Zohar stars as Miriam Schwartz, the formidable grandmother who is heartbroken because she was not allowed to bury her husband in the cemetery of the moshav which her family founded because he has committed suicide. Instead, he is buried just outside the main cemetery--the camera shot of the lone grave of Miriam's husband in the otherwise empty lot with the contrasting crowded main cemetery in the background is the most striking image from the film. Later in the film Miriam learns that because suicide is considered such a horrible offense by Jewish law, she will not even be allowed to be buried beside his grave when she dies. This does not set well with Miriam, who is tough and used to getting her way, but is also a person with a heart of gold. She is bound and determined to win the right to be buried next to her husband at all costs.
Zohar is exceptional in the film, but there are other noteworthy performances as well. Yehuda Levi (A/K/A Levy) follows up his starring role in "Yossi and Jagger" with another fine performance in a very different kind of role playing Miriam's likable but unremarkable grandson Avishai. Early in the film the father (Tal Fridman) tells Avishai that he wished for a son who would turn out to be a lion but he ended up with a canary. Avishai, who spends most of the day smoking dope, is also clearly disappointed in himself. When Ana (Anya Bukstein), the stunningly beautiful young woman who has come from Russia to try and bury her father's ashes in the moshav's cemetery, asks how he copes with his sense of disappointment, Avishai answers simply that he smokes.
Soon Miriam takes up Ana's plight as well as her own. However despite a number of ingenious attempts their efforts are thwarted at every turn. Along the way, Ana and Avishai fall in love. Ana has a wild side and one gets the sense that she has much more experience in love than Avishai. Avishai finally wins Ana over by risking his life to save Ana's father's ashes from a fire. From that moment on she is all his. Avishai seems to realize his luck with women and perhaps his destiny have finally changed as he bends over laughing while Ana is in the shower. This is a heartwarming moment for sure, but it teases credibility a bit to think of Levi (who has model looks) having difficulty getting women to give him a second look.
Meanwhile, the overbearing and idiotic father cooks up a scheme to win an election by using his son's talents as a cantor to win support. There are lots of nice humorous touches throughout the film, but the film is never laugh-out-loud funny except when Miriam walks in on Avishai and Ana doing the weirdest thing with a cigarette while making out. The characters are multi-dimensional and authentic. Although the family members are frequently harsh toward each other, they can also be very warm and affectionate. It is obvious that the family members love each other. The idea of family preservation is strong in this film (as someone in the film points out the soul never dies) and the feeling that the past carries on in both the present and future is made palpable a number of times during the film. It manifests itself in the numerous family photographs on the wall of Miriam's house and in other ways as well. For example, when Miriam walks in and sees Avishai, her grandson putting on his grandfather's white cantor's coat she becomes emotionally overwhelmed and begins to cry. Even Avishai's harsh father is so touched by the sight that he leans over and tenderly kisses his son on the forehead.
Some might find the film's ending contrived but for me the film ends in the only way it logically can. The end is sad, sweet and thought-provoking, and is greatly enhanced by the intersecting images of the synagogue during Yom Kapur and by Avishai's cantor singing which plays over the final moments and adds a haunting, spiritual feeling that continues to linger on after the film ends.
Zohar is an extraordinary talent and Levi and Bukstein have genuine star charisma. All three deserve to be showcased more in future films.
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