User ReviewsReview this title
Miri (Mili Avital) is a flight attendant with El Al (perhaps one of the most secure and safest airlines in the world) whose life turned upside down with her cleaning lady's son being left in her apartment and failing to return when responding to a phone call. Together with sister Gila (Anat Waxman) and Gila's estranged husband Izzy (Alon Abutbul), they try collectively to figure out exactly what to do with him, with embassies and the authorities being out of the question because of his complicated, illegal status, lest they be burdened with the guilt of his non-return to his mother in a blackbox, bureaucratic process.
In what would at first be confused resentment, nicknaming the child at first as "Mao", that emotion will soon turn into endearment and affection, given that "Mao" would become a proxy to the healing process that would in its own way iron out the vastly complex, dysfunctional relationships between almost everyone in the movie, with envious emotions, jilted ex-boyfriends, and personal tragedy all rolled into one, where it seemed that being in denial of their true emotions was the order of the day. Through the series of zany events experienced through carrying out their humanitarian effort, the characters soon discover their inner strength and courage to face their deficiencies.
It brings to mind that food will probably be one of the greatest levellers and ice-breakers, and in one scene where the child, now nicknamed "Noodle", would share his culture through the simple act of slurping, well, noodles, just demonstrates that. By then, gone is the abandoned boy fearful in a strange world, and in his place is now a confident, assured child that his temporal guardians would figure a way out for him to get home. And Chen BaoQi is a remarkable actor, being able to tug at your heartstrings without going over the top in milking his cute factor. Here's a natural in action, taking on deftly the many facets of his character in a full spectrum of emotions from despair to pure joy.
While the movie might seemed to have hinged heavily on Chen's wonderful performance, let's not forget the other major story arc of the two sisters Miri and Gila, and the host of supporting characters that play a huge part in fleshing out and making the entire movie so rich. In fact, I felt that it had so much going on, that it was quite amazing how director Ayelet Menahemi managed to put them all together without bloating the run time, or to have the sub plots overrun into a rampaging monster. Each character was carefully crafted to have their respective back stories, and you can't help but feel sympathetic for Miri as she locks her heart after being luckless with her love life, in having not 1 but 2 husbands killed in war, being childless and with an obvious growing attachment to the boy, where you know that in doing the right thing, she'll suffer from yet another broken heart from having a man (or boy in this case) walk away from her life. This pain again brought out wonderfully by Mili Avital's very understated acting.
Her school teacher sister Gila's life is equally tragic, as she grapples with a long secret, hiding it under an acerbic tongue and wry sense of humour, in always wanting to have the last word. It's quite common for people to try and mask their insecurities under a bold front, and Anat Waxman's performance here provided much tragic-comic relief in her interactions with the rest of the characters. Essentially the story's quite woman-centric with alpha-type females (or at least on the surface) triumphing over the pretty much wishy-washy male characters played by Alon Abutbul and Yiftach Klein, but it takes a collective effort of everyone to be able to pull off a daring stunt.
It's no wonder that the film had secured that many award nominations in the 2007 Israeli Film Academy, or that it won the Special Grand Prize of the Jury at the 2007 Montreal World Film Festival. Nothing beats having to witness characters grow with one another, in a touching drama where little moments speak volumes from the heart.
The results are predictable, but the film has unexpected depth. Neither Mili, nor her sister, nor her sister's estranged husband, are cardboard figures. Each has a story and each has a life. Some of the supporting cast, especially the woman who played the immigration officer, are excellent. The film is well edited and has good production values.
One aspect of the movie surprised me. It could have been set in any developed country, not just Israel. Nothing about the situation--other than the manner in which Miri lost her husbands-- made this a film stamped, "Made in Israel." Whether this is good news or bad news depends on your outlook.
This film will work well on DVD, although we saw it at the Dryden Theatre as part of the excellent Rochester Jewish Film Festival. It's worth seeing if you're in the mood for a solid movie that's more heartwarming than dramatic.
My second mistake was Mili Avital. Based on some of her past films - many of which I could not sit through, I just didn't think she had the acting chops to pull off an interesting character. How wrong I was on both accounts. First of all, the trailer (as the case with many Israeli films) just does not do justice to this movie. From beginning to end, this movie is excellent. I commend the director Ayelet Menahemi for this quality production - from the direction to the pace of the movie and excellent all around cast.
But the real compliment belongs to Ayelet Menahemi for bringing out the realistic and raw talent of the films leading lady. In Ms Avital's prior films, she was always cast as the pretty girl. Many or rather most of those films were horrendous along with her performances. But not here, her performance was believable, honest, raw and pitch perfect. She was rightfully nominated for an Israeli Oscar (Ophir) but lost out to the highly dramatic Ronit Elkabetz. This one film changed my entire perception of Ms Avital and now I highly anticipate her next Israeli project.
To their credit the makers of 'Noodle' did not make this mistake. Their Chinese kid-actor does his work, but is not made to be overwhelmingly cued, nor is this immigration light mode comedy completely based on him. On the contrary, the other principal characters in the story are quite interesting, especially the two sisters played by the Hollywood-stricken (but not very successful there) Miri Avital and by Anat Waxman, one of the best actress on Israeli screens and scenes nowadays.
Neither does the film completely avoid the flaws of the commercial Israeli cinema, and the story line although intriguing as a premise lacks somehow credibility, and cannot avoid a deus-ex-machina solution to the final climax. Overall however the film works even better than some of the recent light-hearted comedies I have seen coming from Hollywood or other established cinema imperia.