Noodle

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Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Norma Prods./EZ Films

SANTA BARBARA -- East meets the Western Wall in "Noodle," an engaging odd-couple comedy about a widowed El Al flight attendant whose deported Chinese cleaning lady leaves her with a little souvenir in the form of her young son. It recently screened at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Although such higher-profile Israeli imports as "The Band's Visit" and "Jellyfish" have been receiving recent attention, "Noodle," which also has been making the film fest rounds (it nabbed the Jury Special Grand Prize honors at the Montreal World Film Festival), is the kind of universal crowd-pleaser that works as effectively in English as it does in Hebrew and Mandarin.

In other words, it should eventually find its way to a domestic distributor, especially considering its American remake potential.

Given that the melancholy Miri (Mili Avital) has in fact lost two husbands to combat, it's understandable that she has shut herself off emotionally rather than risking being hurt again.

There's no shortage of distraction in her crowded Tel Aviv apartment, which she shares with her judgmental, sarcastic sister, Gila (a scene-stealing Anat Waxman, who took home an Israeli Academy Award for her performance), whose own marriage to Miri's supportive colleague, Izzy (Alon Aboutboul), is seriously deteriorating.

But though Miri, 39, leads a worldly existence thanks to her globe-trotting job, she finds herself at loose ends when her maid asks her to watch her withdrawn 6-year-old son (the expressive Baoqui Chen) for an hour but never returns to fetch him.

It turns out the illegal immigrant was deported back to Beijing. The boy knows little Hebrew and even less English, but ultimately the two manage to find a way into each other's hearts.

Formulaic stuff, to be sure, but when done as competently as "Noodle," it's a formula that can't miss.

Directing from a script written with Shemi Yarhin, Ayelet Menahemi keeps everything moving at a nimble pace while holding the sentimental aspect in check thanks to the ample humor, especially where the witty Waxman is concerned.

Her dysfunctional sibling relationship with Avital lends the picture a sassy bite, even as the bond between herself and the boy she calls "Noodle" (which is at least a bit better than his earlier, decidedly un-PC nickname, Mao Tse-tung) follows a comfortably well-traveled path.

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