late marriage (2002)

director: dover kosashvili

lior louie ashkenazi, ronit elkabetz, moni moshonov

It's hard to remember these days that life in Israel continues to be lived, despite suicide bombers and tanks in the streets. Dover Kosashvili's Late Marriage is a glimpse into life which, despite being set in modern Tel Aviv, is still conditioned by the rules of the shtetl, and the villages that most Israelis left generations ago.

Zaza (Lior Louie Ashkenazi) is, by all appearances, a typical if directionless Israeli man; a bright if unmotivated graduate student whose lifestyle is paid for by his proud, indulgent parents. At 31, though, he's still single, and it's driving them crazy, so they take him on endless, painfully awkward meetings with prospective brides and their families, meetings that go nowhere due to Zaza's shrugging indifference, matched by that of the girls.

There's one more thing, though - Zaza is in love with Judith (Ronit Elkabetz),a sexy divorcee and single mother slightly older than him, and while the basis for their relationship seems to be an almost ridiculous sexual chemistry, he'd like to end the charade that he maintains for his parents and marry her. His parents, though, are Georgian Jews, striving to live among the malls and apartment blocks of Tel Aviv like they're still in a tribal world where family overrides everything.

Zaza's father and uncles can't decide whether they're successful businessmen or backwoods thugs, while his mother and aunts attack every problem with a barrage of nagging, fretting and overwhelming applications of maternal guilt that practically turn the movie into Full Metal Yenta. The centerpiece of the film, a long scene where every major character is crammed into Judith's tiny apartment, his family intent on bullying Judith out of Zaza's life, is excruciating, the kind of emotional onslaught that might make one grateful to be an orphan.

It will all end badly, and Kosashvili's arm's length direction, along with the remarkable performances he gets from his cast, only some of whom are professionals, makes Late Marriage a kind of slow motion train wreck, with an aftermath that's more disturbing - and realistic - than we expect, despite everything that comes before.