For once the translation of the title works better than the name of the film itself. I did not like 'Paam Haiti' - the Hebrew name of Avi Nesher's film which translates into 'Once I Was' - which says too little about the characters in the movie and the world they live in. 'The Matchmaker' while focusing only on the principal character catches the essential, as the best part in the film in my opinion is indeed the hero played by Adir Miller.
Yankele Bride is a Holocaust survivor who lives in the harbor area of the Israeli city of Haifa in 1968. This is the year after the victory of Israel in the Six Days War, maybe the best year in the history of the young country, although the clouds of the continuing conflict with the Arab countries around are often seen or heard in the headlines shouted by the boys selling newspapers (there were no TV news flashes then, at least not in Israel who was going to have its first TV station only one or two years later). However, the principal heroes of the film do not and cannot share the atmosphere of optimism around - they are Holocaust survivors who live in a country which was created to harbor them, but is unwilling or unable to cope with the horror, the pain, the shame of what they went through. The extraordinary person who is Yankele Bride tries to cure at least part of them, to find for them the peer souls, to heal by bringing love. It's an extraordinary story, which unfortunately did not result into a good film - at least in my view.
Although not as successful as Nesher's previous film 'Turn Left at the End of the World' (that one had a fantastic title!) 'The Matchmaker' enjoyed a good reception in Israel. I confess I did not like it. I simply cannot cope with Nesher's style which mixes moving stories with the traditional (and outdated IMO) style of film-making that was popular in the 70s and 80s in Israel. His usage of popular actors is a waste, and having the extraordinary Miller and the tragic act of Maya Dagan coexist with the unnecessary make-up applied to Dov Navon and the clowny act of Eli Yatzpan is a combination that simply does not work. The coming to age story while acted quite well by the younger actors was unclear and brought back forcefully memories of an older film of Nesher (Ha Lahaka - The Band) from the beginning of the 80. Nesher has problems in telling the story even with the help of off-screen comments. Emphasize was put on building the atmosphere of Haifa in the 60s and this succeeds pretty well, but other details are carelessly treated - the characters are supposed to speak Hebrew with a Romanian accent, but this not how Romanian accent sounds in Hebrew, and worst of all - a Jew from Iasi (Yassi) in Romania would have had close to zero chances to get into Auschwitz during the second world war where numbers where tattooed on the arms of the prisoners. Overall this film deals with an important theme and brings to screen interesting characters, but the realization is disappointing, and even Adir Miller's impressing performance cannot save it from failure.
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