At an age when a boy should only be concerned about when he’s going to hang out with his friends, how will he handle being thrown into a grown-up world of corruption and crime on his path to enlightenment? The end result is actually more charming than you would assume as Avi Nesher’s The Matchmaker tells a coming-of-age story that celebrates opening your heart in a world where compassion is a sign of weakness.
The Matchmaker tells the story of Arik Burstein (played by Tuval Shafir), a young boy in 1968 Haifa, Israel, whose passion for detective novels leads him to work for his father’s childhood friend Yankele Bride (stand-up comedian Adir Miller), a matchmaker. In this business, Arik must spy on clients to prove their worth and their faithfulness. But Arik faces the challenge of balancing his work life with his personal life as he falls in love with his best friend’s crush, Tamara (Neta Porat), a neighbor who comes back from America with a passion for music and women’s rights.
Along the way, Arik and Yankele learn that love isn’t as easy to come by as their job makes it out to be. Arik struggles to keep his desire for Tamara hidden and Yankele finds it harder to get close with his beloved Clara (Maya Dagan) while she is constantly being harassed by suitors and clients.
The film does a great job balancing comedy and drama in a way that keeps one from overpowering the other. The subtleties of the characters’ interactions are wonderful, as we get a feeling that the bonds Arik makes with Yankele and Tamara strengthen slowly but surely as time progresses.
It helps that throughout the film actors and actresses give natural performances with humor that fits into everyday scenarios. The drama treats its subject matters with respect as many of the less fortunate characters have been victims of the Holocaust. Miller’s performance as Yankele is fantastic; he expresses both a light-hearted side as a jokey matchmaker, as well as a more serious side as a tormented war victim, who is longing for love and bitter towards those who are unfaithful. With Shafir, you get the feel that Arik is just an average teenage boy, curious of the world around him and fascinated with anything that breaks the mold from the straight and narrow life.
The scenery is oddly impressive considering that in both periods of time that Haifa is shown, 1968 and 2006, war is supposed to be going on behind the scenes. Despite this, however, there is still an effort to make the town look vibrant and beautiful. Even the slums where Arik works are brightly lit and clean, though his parents openly express their concern for Arik working in such a gritty part of town. To be fair, though, the story is told through Arik’s eyes, so his rose-tinted view of society and discovery may influence the clean and cheery set pieces that make up downtown Haifa.
The Matchmaker plays at the Living Room Theatres on FAU’s Boca campus everyday at 5:00 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 9:50 p.m. until April 5.