Directed by Avi Nesher and winner of the Audience Choice Award For Best Feature at the New York Israeli Film Festival 2011, The Matchmaker is a film set in post-Holocaust Israel. It is the summer of 1968 and teenager Arik Burstein begins work for Yankele Bride, a Holocaust survivor who has literally been scarred by his time in the camps. Bride is an old school friend of Arik’s father and his line of work is brokering marriages and love matches for those who can’t do it on their own…with a dash of smuggling contraband goods on the side. A lover of detective crime fiction, Arik’s assistant role sees him spying on prospective clients, a job that has him venturing into the more dubious areas of Haifa’s ‘low-rent’ district.
For all his matchmaking abilities (he gives his clients ‘what they need, not what they want’) Bride is not so lucky in his own love life. He must settle for the role of friend and protector to the sultry and wise Clara, (Maya Dagan) the love of his life who, in spite of her own feelings for Bride, cannot shake the horrors of her time as a prisoner in the concentration camps. In fact, although the film is an ode to the nostalgia of youth and the joys and tribulations of coming of age, the horror of war and terrorism is always present. The teenagers in this film like Arik and his friends, the first generation Israelis, struggle to come to terms with the legacy of their parents’ experiences in the war. They are at once ignorant of and curious about the secrets their parents seem to conceal surrounding the truth of all they witnessed and endured. Nasher treats this generational gap with a delicate balance of humour and sympathy, creating characters that in the face of war have chosen to endure on through life, making the most of what they have to work with.
The memorable performances from Tuval Shafir as Arik Burstein and Adir Miller as Yankele Bride are central to the success of the film and provide much of the humour that softens the impact of the more challenging aspects of the film. So too Bat-El Papura who plays Sylvia, one of the ‘Seven Dwarves’ who run the Bollywood cinema Bride frequents. In fact all the characters are carefully and thoughtfully played, with the older generations living under the weight of the past, giving way to the youth who regardless of their struggle to understand their parents’ legacy offer hope and vibrancy for the future.
The film deals with challenging subject matter and does so with seriousness and a bitter-sweet sense of humour, making it a profoundly enjoyable film.
Directed by Avi Nesher
Starring Adir Miller, Tuval Shafir and Maya Dagan.
Screening in August and September as part of the Israeli Film Festival.