Don't fence me in

Scoping out the limits of love and tradition in Tel Aviv.

Aug 21, 2002 at 12:00 am

What’s the difference between culture, tradition, superstition, mass fear and/or “misery loves company”? Maybe not a whole lot. At least not when you live within the restrictive confines of the Georgian subculture of Tel Aviv, Israel.

Zaza is 31 years old and not married — and therefore a mess in his parents’ eyes, even though he’s handsome and well-educated (finishing his doctorate in humanities). The folks have arranged yet another meeting with an eligible, very young and “acceptable” woman, but Zaza is going through the motions and tells his aunt, “Don’t be angry if I don’t want her.” After Zaza gets chastised by his parents for wearing a yellow shirt with no tie under his jacket, the families meet and begin the arranged-marriage process as the old ones commiserate over how “the temple of love” is missing in today’s world.

When 17-year-old Llana walks in, her knockout good looks seem to seal the deal, at least for Zaza’s parents. They scurry the two off into her room so they can get to know each other. Zaza asks Llana, if a monster came out of the sea and claimed he was God, what would it take for him to convince you? Llana wants to know how much money the monster would pay her to believe. But Zaza would be won over if the monster simply convinces his mother that love exists.

Late Marriage is writer-director Dover Kosashvili’s first feature film, and it’s the highest-grossing Israeli film in Israel since 1984. Maybe Kosashvili has tapped into his native country’s zeitgeist with his film’s young, savvy cinematic sensibility framed by the limitations of a conservative, unrelenting culture. Zaza’s yellow shirt is no mistake; it’s just a symbol, the tip of a mountain range of fearful traditions, spoon-fed from generation to generation without question.

Zaza doesn’t want to get married because he’s already in love with Judith, a 34-year-old Moroccan divorcee with a 6-year-old child. But Zaza’s father, Yasha, sets the two straight when he tells Judith he’s 56 and his wife Lily is 51. “That’s how we do things: man older, woman younger.”

Also in Yasha’s case, “man can act, woman can’t.” Zaza’s mother, Lily, a crucial character, is the almost disastrous weak link in the film. After watching her nonacting abilities among a troupe of very adequate performers, it shocked-me-not to find out she’s played by the director’s mother, Lili Kosashvili. Although it’s interesting to contemplate the strange parallels between Lily, the mother in the film, and the use of Lily, Kosashvili’s mother, in the film, what saves the whole show is the chemistry between Zaza and Judith.

Lior Ashkenazi has striking, ’40s-film star, straight-edged features with deep-set drowsy eyes, and Ronit Elkabetz possesses that intense, dark beauty that ancient kingdoms warred over. As Zaza and Judith, they look as if the gods had specifically created them to be with each other. Ashkenazi and Elkabetz react off each other (through gentle teasing and bickering) inside a relationship choreography that’s so subtly imperfect it seems as natural as breathing.

But it’s Ashkenazi’s final scene that will rivet and dislodge emotions you forgot you had. When he asks, “So where are you men with your perfect wives?” the line and the scene have a lasting potency that will encourage you to keep an eye out for Kosashvili’s future films, as long as he keeps his mother out of them.

Late Marriage proposes the question: If a monster came out of the sea and said he was “tradition,” then insisted that you follow him no matter what your mind, body and soul told you, what would it take for you to say “no”?

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].