Fighting tradition is never easy: “Mariage tardif” [2001 Israel, France]

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Writer-director Dover Koshashvili’s impressive début feature, “Mariage tardif” [Orig. Title: Hatuna Meuheret, Eng. Title: Late Marriage] is a bitter-sweet satirical comedy that doesn’t flinch in laying bare the consequences of staunchly held traditional values colliding with modern aspirations within an Israeli family. Shot in Hebrew and Georgian, the film’s vague relevance for this site can only be justified through its co-production by France.

Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi), a thirty one year old bachelor is forced to make a choice between the two women he loves – Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), a thirty three year old divorcee and single mother, and his mum Lili (Lili Koshashvili – the director’s own mother), who is vehemently opposed to their union. In Lili’s eyes, Judith had lost her right to become part of her family by failing to meet some critical requisites – her son’s wife should be younger than him, she should never have been married before, and preferably still be a virgin, let alone be a mother to a child through someone else. Zaza is still studying – doing a doctorate at a Tel Aviv university, and utterly reliant on his parents’ stipend. Aware of the obvious benefits of keeping them in good humour, at least until he finishes his studies, Zaza accompanies them to meet various ‘approved’ matches, without the slightest intention of picking one.

While Judith is all too aware of Zaza’s dependence on his parents, the challenge of maintaining their relationship will be made shockingly clear when his parents, after discovering their affair, visit and threaten her with physical harm not only in front of her child, but an embarrassed Zaza as well. Despite his righteous protests, the damage has been done – his untenable position has been glaringly exposed. Now it all depends on how he responds, and how Judith interprets his response…

The above plot, which in itself isn’t any different from many family-driven melodramas in the middle east and beyond, nevertheless is radically different through its treatment – the bywords are logic and realism. In closed communities like the one portrayed, family honour and prestige are more important than personal choices and fulfilment – defended using violence if necessary. Koshashvili treads a fine line here – he doesn’t dismiss the traditional way outright, but makes an impassioned plea for a better understanding of a more cosmopolitan generation with slightly different moral values.

The insightful characterisation, possibly drawn from Koshashvili ‘s personal experiences, will resonate with audiences beyond the community it represents – even if they may be exaggerated versions of people we may know, they’re not caricatures drawn to merely induce laughs or scorns. One of the pivotal sequences in the film is an extremely intimate sex scene between Zaza and Judith which establishes the closeness of their relationship – it is disarmingly honest, and as far as can be from pornography or conventional film erotica. The scene reminds us of our own selves, and enable us to connect with the protagonists at a very personal level. The camera captures every nuance and detail of the couple’s interactions, who are completely comfortable being naked in each other’s presence. The same honesty is also shown when portraying the ruthlessness of Zaza’s parents in separating what they take for a mismatched couple. But they’re not unidimensional as to be neatly categorised as good or evil – they also care for their son and truly believe that they’re doing him a favour for which he’ll one day only thank them.

Ronit Elkabetz is sensational as the fiery and intelligent Judith – not only is she a great actress, she’s a knock-out babe too, made plain despite the rather mediocre image transfer in my New Yorker NTSC DVD. The film questions aspects of age old traditions that are incompatible with modern living using irony and wit. Unlike Monsoon Wedding, a film that came out the same year and also delves into arranged marriages, Late Marriage casts an altogether critical view on the subject. The final scenes, including the conversation between a drunk Zaza and his father in the toilet, are outrageous and merciless in its satire. It is a film that everyone in, or about to enter a long term relationship, should see – Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL] | English Subtitles
(I haven’t seen this recent DVD edition, but I suspect the quality should be way better than my older NTSC copy)


The Nudity: Ronit Elkabetz and Lior Ashkenazi
There’s just a single scene in the film that contains nudity, but it is long, and important to the narrative, when Zaza spends a night in Judith’s apartment. They talk, have sex, pause, joke, and start again – made using takes lasting over a minute each, it is one of the more realistic portrayals in film, of sex within a normal relationship. They don’t go about the business like porn stars, they don’t ‘perform’ like actors in many other films, they just do it like us, and talk nothings into each other’s ear like we do, and it establishes their closeness and affection admirably. It’s a scene also made special through genuine chemistry between Ronit Elkabetz and Lior Ashkenazi. People who moan about nudity in films should particularly watch this scene in its entirety. If they’re honest with themselves, they’ll realise that the scene, filmed in any other way, will never come as close to revealing the depth of the couple’s relationship.

Ronit Elkabetz and Lior Ashkenazi nude in the sex scene from Mariage tardif aka Hatuna Meuheret aka Late Marriage

Ronit Elkabetz and Lior Ashkenazi in a magnificently realistic sex scene from Dover Koshashvili’s
“Mariage tardif” aka “Hatuna Meuheret” aka “Late Marriage”.



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