As wrenching as it is funny, “Late Marriage” is a portrait of family pressure that makes “The Godfather” chestnut about “an offer he can’t refuse” look like pussy-footing prevarication. Tel Aviv-set tale of a handsome 31-year-old student whose Georgian parents are intent on finding him a suitable Jewish girl to wed despite the fact he has already found the love of his life is a scathing portrait marbled with laugh-out-loud situations. Dover Kosashvili’s helming debut also features one of the more novel and dramatically innovative sex scenes to grace recent international cinema. An arthouse career beyond Israel and France seems assured.
Zaza (Lior Louie Ashkenazi), who is pursuing a doctorate in philosophy, humors his zaftig, stonefaced mom Lili (Lili Kosashvili, the writer-director’s own non-pro mother), and his wiry dad Yasha (Moni Moshonov) as they drag him to meet virginal teens from good families who might make suitable spouses. Sticklers for Georgian tradition, his parents fly into a rage when they discover he’s carrying on seriously with a 34-year-old divorced Moroccan woman, Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), who has an adorable 6-year-old daughter, Madona (Sapir Kugman).
In a longish, utterly convincing bedroom scene, we witness Zaza and Judith’s superb sexual complicity built on deadpan humor and faux exasperation. By the tenets of human logic and movie logic, they belong together, but the tug of Zaza’s unyielding family is as indelible as the tides.
In a ferociously uncomfortable confrontation, Zaza’s extended family barges in at Judith’s small apartment to threaten Zaza into renouncing her. Other outstanding scenes include Lili’s solo visit to Judith, and Zaza’s profoundly bizarre thank-you speech to his father in a public restroom.
In addition to the horrors of family tyranny, interior design of older generation’s apartments is terrifying authentic in its garish bad taste. Pic also shines in its use of a pet dog — whose sympathies are unencumbered by centuries of judgemental tradition — as humorous punctuation. Kosashvili, who won a Cannes Cinefondation prize in 1999 for his short “With Rules,” makes the transition to features with an assured hand, layering the emotional blackmail with alacrity. For authenticity’s sake, Hebrew-speaking actors spent five months learning Georgian dialogue phonetically.