A surprisingly joyous interdenominational romp through the Arab Wadi section of Haifa sports a pint-size Russian Jewish Romeo and an Arab spinster Juliet, but is oddball enough to avoid the usual tragic Capulet/Montague brouhaha.

A surprisingly joyous interdenominational romp through the Arab Wadi section of Haifa sports a pint-size Russian Jewish Romeo and anArab spinster Juliet, but is oddball enough to avoid the usual tragic Capulet/Montague brouhaha. Handheld camerawork and a Dogma-type semi-docu aesthetic aid greatly in defusing formulaic aspects of the pic and immersing viewer in the jostling immediacy of the characters’ lives. Apparently, the popular novel on which the movie is based paved the way for toleration of what in today’s political climate in Israel might be considered a taboo topic. Film’s lighthearted antics may score well with indie auds, though this may not be the optimum time for a Stateside release.

Pic first focuses on two sisters. Mery is beautiful, sensual and relatively incapable of saying no to boyfriends, family, etc. Then there’s Huda — bright, funny, aware of what she wants and unwilling to settle for less. They live together and like to hang out.

When a trumpet-playing Jewish “dwarf” moves in upstairs and serenades the neighborhood from the rooftop, his appearance sparks derision but his music weaves magic around Huda’s latenight jelly sandwich snacking. He’s also amazingly fit and rids the family of an importunate knife-wielding suitor with unexpected dispatch. He and Huda wrestle engagingly with amusing dating awkwardness. Though the couple’s warring factional allegiances do indeed figure in long-term relationship deliberations, it’s the boyfriend’s crazy mother and his bounding little body that take the most getting used to.

Meanwhile, Mery is pregnant by the no-goodnik son of their sleazeball landlord, and mama, unaware, is pushing her to marry a local shutter contractor. When the marriage negotiations break down over the lack of a dowry, the smitten shutterman is unshaken in his declarations of undying love, despite his mother’s walkoff. But the contractor still proves a tough nut to crack, the real challenge being getting him to bed before the wedding so Mery can pass the kid off as his.

Pic’s breezy tone and crowded frames allow for a wide range of emotional mood swings. Itzik Portal’s video lensing emphasizes the spontaneity and looseness of the goings-on, the veteran husband-and-wife helmers’ docu background standing them in good stead in this department.

A Trumpet in the Wadi

Israel

Production

A Ricki Shelach Prods. Ltd. production with the support of the Israel Film Fund, the Ministry of Science, Culture & Sport and ICP (Israel Cable Programming). Produced by Riki Schelach. Directed by Lina and Slava Chaplin. Screenplay by Amit Leor, based on the novel by Sami Michael.

Crew

Camera (video-to-35mm, color), Itzik Portal; editor, Bracha Zisman-Cohen; music, Eviatar Banai; production designer, Peter Goss; sound, David Josef. Reviewed at the Montreal World Film Festival (World Cinema), Aug. 26, 2002. (Also in New York and Israeli Film Festivals.) Running time: 102 MIN. (Arabic, Hebrew dialogue)

With

Alex - Aleander Senderovich Huda - Khawlah Hag-Debsy Mery - Raeda Adon Mother - Salwa Nakkara-Hadad Grandfather - Itzhak Neeman Wahid - Imad Gabarin
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