Sometimes love doesn't conquer all.
I am neither Israeli nor Georgian, and I cannot claim to know a single fact about either of these cultures' ways of life. Furthermore, I do not speak Hebrew or Georgian, and I believe a lot has been lost in the creation of Late Marriage's English subtitles. Therefore, there is no possible way I can fairly review the full merits of this movie. All I can hope is to explain my reactions and thoughts, assuming they will be similar to those of most other Americans.
Facts of the Case
Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi) is 31 years old and has never been married. His situation does not sit well with his family; they make excuses for him, explaining that he has been too busy studying for his doctorate in philosophy to worry about a wife. Yet they work to rectify the situation by employing a matchmaker and dragging Zaza to meetings with her picks and their families.
Late Marriage opens with such a meeting, between the immediate and extended families of Zaza and Ilana (Aya Steinovitz), who is 17. She is a beautiful girl, but the disparity between the two is evident: Zaza says he wants a woman who is "so perfect for me that I'd go insane." Ilana, on the other hand, wants "a rich man."
It turns out Zaza's family has introduced him to over 100 such girls, to no avail. His parents' suspicion that another factor exists in the equation is confirmed when they try to contact him and discover he's spent the entire night out. He's been with Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), the 34-year-old divorced mother with whom he is enamored. And, after the near-fifteen minute sex scene (with full-frontal nudity), the reasons for his infatuation are apparent.
His father confronts him the next morning, telling him to drop her and find a suitable wife. Zaza ignores the order and goes to see her again the next night. He finds his family waiting there for him. They storm Judith's apartment, attacking her both verbally and physically, and force the two to break up.
Will Zaza defy his family and stay with Judith? Or will he give her up and find a wife to please his family?
On the surface, Late Marriage, with its arranged marriages and disparagement of divorce, will be difficult for most Americans to relate to. But if we look deeper, we can realize that the movie is actually about a man's struggle to reconcile his independence with his family's expectations—an issue we can all understand. The problem is that the Georgian/Israeli view of this issue is much different than the American view. We expect Zaza to vote for his independence, while they (at least the "they" portrayed in this movie) expect him to vote for his family.
I think this disparity is why I enjoyed some parts of the movie so much and other parts so little. The scenes with Zaza and Judith are magical. The two have impeccable chemistry, and there is a light in Zaza's eyes when he's with her that disappears in the rest of the movie. I disliked the scenes with Zaza and his family because he just sits there, docile, letting them walk all over him. What happened to the élan he shows with Judith? Furthermore, the woman who plays Zaza's mother (Lili Koshashvili, writer/director Dover Koshashvili's real-life mother) not only cannot act but can barely speak above a whisper. Combine my irritation with Zaza and my boredom with his mother, and I could not wait for the family scenes to pass.
Additionally, I enjoyed Zaza and Judith's scenes together because they established their chemistry in the most realistic portrayal of sex I have ever seen in a movie. The scene is honest and accurate, not romanticized like so many Hollywood sex scenes. And it's funny, as all good sex should be. Oh, and it has full-frontal nudity—how much more convincing do you need?
Late Marriage has a top-heavy plot. The first hour and 25 minutes is spent on build up, and the last 10 minutes of resolution takes place several months later. I would have liked to see a longer movie that included at least a glimpse of what occurred during those several missing months. As it stands, I was left feeling that the writer got tired of the story and found the easiest and quickest way to wrap it up.
The DVD, like the movie itself, left me wanting more. The only extras are trailers for Late Marriage and a few other films and a brief history of New Yorker Films. A director's commentary, though probably difficult to arrange because of language barriers, might have gone a long way toward allowing me to understand and enjoy this movie in ways I could not on my own.
The movie is presented in its original 1.85:1 ratio. The picture is good but not great—I saw more than a couple specks of dirt flash by, and the blacks are not as, well, black as they should be.
The only audio track available is 2.0 surround in Georgian and Hebrew. From the information I can gather, both languages are spoken in one track; there are not two separate tracks. Zaza's family are, apparently, Georgian immigrants, so it would follow that they speak both Georgian and Hebrew. The sound was a bit distant, not as full as I expected. Also, I noticed a major problem when Zaza is slapping himself near the end of the movie: the slapping sound occurs before he makes contact with his cheek.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Late Marriage is a story that hasn't been told before, at least not by Hollywood. It's an honest look at how a man in this situation would be expected to react. He's not a hero; he's not a leading man; he's a human being with responsibilities and flaws. Maybe he doesn't act how you think he should, but ask yourself: how would you react in the same situation?
When it's all said and done, I feel I have to recommend you watch this movie: because it's different; because it's not a Hollywood movie; because I want you to support originality. If those reasons aren't good enough, then watch it to remind yourself how forward thinking your family really is.
Whatever your reason, watch it…but don't buy it. With the less-than-stellar transfers and the almost complete lack of extras, why even consider it? A rental will do you just fine.
Writer/director Dover Koshashvili is found guilty of casting a family member in a lead role (has no one learned from Godfather III?), but his sentence is commuted for his outstanding community service in providing a realistic portrayal of sex in a movie. (Have I mentioned the full-frontal nudity?)
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Yorker Films
• Trailers: Late Marriage, Kandahar, The Town is Quiet, Fast Food Fast Women, and The Price of Milk
Review content copyright © 2003 Elizabeth Skipper; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.