21 April 2009

The Decade List: Late Marriage (2001)

Late Marriage - dir. Dover Koshashvili

Most films about the religious/cultural tradition of arranged marriage, from fairy tales about princesses to contemporary tales from the Middle East, India and China, have the same thing to say about the institution: arranged marriage = bad (this can also be extended to really any tale of star-cross'd lovers where there's a disapproving family involved). In reiterating the same tired belief, almost all of these films end up accomplishing exactly what the pegged villains are trying to do by sacrificing human emotions for their own unjustified cause. Despite these constant reminders of the pitfalls of arranged marriages, nothing has changed socially. These practices still exist, and that's where you'll find Dover Koshashvili's Late Marriage.

I'm always skeptical calling a film a response to what's come before it. In the case of Late Marriage, this temptation probably arises from its adoption of the role of a typical modern versus tradition comedy. By dressing the part, Koshashvili addresses not the tradition itself, but the legacy by which it has been depicted in other works. The film begins well after the two lovers, thirty-one-year old philosophy student Zaza (Lior Ashenazi) and thirty-four-year old divorcée and single mother Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), met and courted one another, and most importantly, well after the tales of true love overcoming obstacles became standard.

Despite all his intellectual pursuits and skills with the opposite sex, Zaza is a child, and this is why his romance with Judith can't go on. His entire lifestyle is supported by his parents, and his fear to fend for himself is what ultimately drives that wedge. During the confrontation scene with his family, Zaza tells his father (Moni Moshonov) to cut his head off with Judtih's ex-husband's sword. Though on one level we know he doesn't wish to die, we also get the notion that death would be the preferable option to supporting himself. When his mother (Lili Koshashvili) goes to Judith's house to make peace after the fact, Judith tells her, "I realized then that he loved you more than he loved me." While Judith is certainly wiser than Zaza, she mistakes his need for support for a "love" for his mother. It might also be suggested that Zaza and Judith weren't really in love, but I think that's untrue. In what I'd go as far to call the best sex scene of any film this decade, everything is revealed, not just physically but emotionally as well. Their chemistry saturates the entire candid sequence and squashes some of the family members' belief that he's only into her for the sex.

In a welcome change of pace, Late Marriage displays a realm where the good wills of individual people can't change the world around them. The tragedy of Late Marriage doesn't just affect the doomed lovers, but the ones who are splitting them up as well. Just as Zaza and Judith can't convince his family that their love is enough, Zaza's parents can't convince him that they have his best interests in mind. Koshashvili doesn't condemn any of the characters' beliefs and makes it difficult for their viewer to by showing them with all their contradictory affectations. Late Marriage is a shattering film. Its final scene is reminiscent of the one in Claire Denis' Beau travail. It's not just bittersweet, it's unexpected, acerbic and absolutely staggering. Late Marriage won ten Israeli Film Academy Awards, in all four acting categories (Ashenazi and Elkabetz are phenomenal here), as well as picture and director, and was the country's official submission for the Academy Awards. "Tragi-comedies" really don't get much better.

With: Lior Ashkenazi, Ronit Elkabetz, Moni Moshonov, Lili Koshashvili, Sapir Kugman, Aya Steinovitz, Rosina Kambus, Simon Chen
Screenplay: Dover Koshashvili
Cinematography: Daniel Schneor
Music: Iosif Bardanashvili
Country of Origin: Israel/France
US Distributor: New Yorker Films

Premiere: 17 May 2001 (Cannes Film Festival)
US Premiere: September 2001 (Telluride Film Festival)

Awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor - Lior Ashkenazi, Best Actress - Ronit Elkabetz, Best Supporting Actor - Moni Moshonov, Best Supporting Actress - Lili Koshashvili, Best Screenplay, Best Editing - Yael Perlov, Best Sound (Awards of the Israeli Film Academy)

1 comment:

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