The Matchmaker -- Film Review

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It may be unabashedly old-fashioned in style and scope, but that doesn't mean "The Matchmaker" ("Once I Was"), the latest from Israel's Avi Nesher travels in predictable circles.

Loosely based on the novel, "When Heroes Fly," by Amir Gutfreund, the ambitious film (it received seven Israeli Academy Award nominations) certainly has a lot on its plate-a coming-of-age story set in Haifa during the sexually liberated summer of '68 yet still very much in the shadow of the Holocaust and filled with surprising revelations.

When you add in a lively ensemble that would have been right at home in vintage Fellini, it's remarkable that the production comes together as well as it does, effortlessly drawing you into its charmingly eccentric world.

Tuval Shafir's Arik is a 16-year-old facing uncertain summer plans until the arrival of Yankele Bride (comedian Adir Miller), a Holocaust survivor and old friend of his father's from Romania, who travels around the city as a self-appointed matchmaker.

He offers Arik a job doing detective work, making sure those potential matches aren't otherwise engaged and reporting back to Bride at his office down in the low-rent district, a bustling seaside area populated by black market businesses and streetwalkers, as well as a pair midget brother-and-sister movie theater owners.

While Arik's admittedly intrigued by this world, distraction soon arrives in the form of his promiscuous cousin, Tamara (Neta Porat) who has come from America determined to spread some of that free love enlightenment.

Not all is bright and irreverent here, with Bride and others engaging in some decidedly non-kosher activities-a survival tactic they likely learned back in the camps.

Nesher weaves a rich tapestry with engaging performances, also including the diminutive Bat-el-Papura as the lovelorn Sylvia, a survivor of Josef Mengele's experiments; and Maya Dagan as Bride's fragile, Lana Turner-esque lady friend, still haunted by memories of "back there."

Adding to that vintage European vibe is a characteristically earthy score by veteran composer Philippe Sarde, no stranger to the films of Andre Techine, Bertrand Tavernier and Costa-Gavras

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: Metro Communications, UCM, United King Films
Cast: Adir Miller, Maya Dagan, Tuval Shafir, Dror Keren
Director-screenwriter: Avi Nesher
Executive producers: Shlomo Mugrabi, Rami Damari, Evyatar Dotan, Rami Mor
Producers: David Silber, Chilick Michaeli, Avi Nesher, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery, Avraham Pirchi, Tamar Leon, Natan Caspi
Director of photography: Michele Abramowicz
Production designer: Miguel Markin
Music: Philippe Sarde
Editor: Isaac Sehayek
No Rating, 118 minutes
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