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film review: Nora's Will

by Leonard Maltin
October 28, 2010 7:51 AM
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Indie and foreign films have a tougher time than ever in today’s marketplace, which is why I want to call your attention to an import that’s truly worth seeing—even though you may not have heard much about it. Nora’s Will has won a number of film festival awards, which got my attention. I also put considerable stock in Menemsha Films, the small, dedicated distributor that has taken on its U.S. release. They tell me that business actually increased after its first week at the Paris Theater in Manhattan because of strong word-of-mouth; now it’s opening at a number of Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles, with other cities to follow in the weeks and months ahead.

Quiet, original, irreverent, ironic: these are some of the adjectives that describe Mariana Chenillo’s bittersweet comedy about a Jewish family dealing with the suicide of its—

—matriarch on the eve of Passover. The main character is Nora’s ex-husband, played with quiet authority by Fernando Luján, a veteran actor who reminds me of another venerable performer, Fernando Rey—the kind of man who can effortlessly command the screen. His character is pragmatic, unsentimental, and self-possessed, making him a kind of straight man for the colorful parade of people who invade Nora’s apartment in the days following her demise—including an Orthodox rabbi, his young and inexperienced disciple, Nora’s devoted Catholic housekeeper, a well-meaning cousin, and finally, Nora’s son, with his wife and two young daughters, who treat the experience of seeing their grandmother’s corpse as an adventure.

Why Nora took her own life, and why her ex-husband José refuses to serve the Passover dinner she left behind for her family, is for you to discover in this disarming, pitch-perfect chamber piece. It is a film of modest ambitions, but it’s so well realized that it left me with a smile of satisfaction—a reward too few films offer nowadays. I suspect other, flashier foreign films with bigger promotional budgets will capture the lion’s share of media attention this movie season, but I doubt any will surpass this one for pure enjoyment.

P.S. Once you’ve seen the film, I think you’ll enjoy this brief but telling interview with its writer-director: www.menemshafilms.com.

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