Boy's long-overlooked intellectual gifts surface in spite of a chaotic family environment in Shemi Zarhin's sweet if slight Israeli comedy. Writer-director has fashioned a talky but well-paced film that nicely captures the lives of a clan spanning three generations. U.S. spring opening care of Strand will perform along lines of a modest art film release.

A boy’s long-overlooked intellectual gifts surface in spite of a chaotic family environment in “Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi,” Shemi Zarhin’s sweet if slight Israeli comedy. The writer-director of past hits “Passover Fever” and “Dangerous Acts” has fashioned an exceptionally talky but well-paced coming-of-age film that nicely captures the lives of a clan spanning three generations, while mixing in formulaic elements that helped make it a local B.O. hit, with a just-concluded 40-week theatrical run. Planned U.S. spring opening care of Strand will perform along the lines of a modest art film release.

Sixteen-year-old Shlomi (Oshri Cohen) appears to be a typical teenage boy — seeking to “upgrade” (read: have sex) with new g.f. Tehila (Rotem Zisman), bored with his high school classes and eavesdropping on beautiful 17-year-old neighbor Rona (Aya Koren).

At home, though, Shlomi’s the loving caregiver for his senile grandfather (Arie Elias) and the fulltime peacemaker between the various combatants in his family circle. His pestering and gruff mother Ruhama (Esti Zakhem) works as a nurse, and butts heads with the whole clan, including grandfather, eldest guitar-playing son Doron (Jonathan Rozen) and especially her divorced husband Robert (Albert Illouz), who’s a hopeless hypochondriac.

There’s a sense in the early reels that pic is spinning its wheels with a multitude of “cute” exchanges between Shlomi and grandfather and other conversations that establish Shlomi as an incredibly decent, selfless boy surrounded by a bunch of semi-kooks. (His only naughty streak is a habit of snooping looks at Doron’s sexually boastful diary.) Shlomi also makes elaborate desserts and likes poetry.

At school, Shlomi’s math teacher (Nisso Khavia) discovers the boy has a talent for numbers, and soon Principal (Yigal Naor) begins to take an interest when Shlomi displays an extraordinary gift for calculations. However, there is a perceptible gap between the boy’s need to go to an academy which can nurture his skills and his parents’ assumption that Shlomi is either slow or dyslexic, and is primarily useful to them as a kind of assistant mother.

Pic displays an audience-pleasing knack for juggling amusing and arch incidents and sub-plots — the sweetest one being the up-and-down-and-up passions that grow between Shlomi and Rona, who Shlomi mistakenly thinks is having an affair with one of Doron’s pals — with large chunks of acid-tongued dialogue.

Cast appears in sync with Zarhin’s human comedy. Cohen quietly tones down what on paper is an impossibly romanticized teen character. Zakhem revels in mother Ruhama’s obsessions and tart observations and put-downs, and Naor balances the domestic craziness with a sober portrait of a good pedagogue.

DV-to-film transfer preserves the film’s sunny look, and art director Ariel Glazer creates a suitably messy home setting for Shlomi’s stress-filled family life. French title, suggested by Strand according to Zarhin, refers to the standard daily greeting between grandfather and Shlomi and replaces the original Hebrew title which translates as “Shlomi’s Stars.”

Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi

Israel

Production

A Strand Releasing release of an Evanstone presentation of a Eitan Evan production. (International sales: Media Luna Entertainment, Cologne.) Produced by Eitan Evan. Directed, written by Shemi Zarhin .

Crew

Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Itzik Portal; editor, Einat Glaser Zarhin; music, Jonathan Bar-Giora; art director, Ariel Glazer; costume designer, Inbal Shuki; sound (Dolby SR), Eli Yarkoni; casting, Esther Kling. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival, Jan. 11, 2004. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Shlomi Bardayan - Oshri Cohen Grandfather - Arie Elias Ruhama Bardayan - Esti Zakhem Rona - Aya Koren Principal - Yigal Naor Robert Bardayan - Albert Illouz Doron - Jonathan Rozen Ziva - Rotem Abuhav Sasi - Assi Cohen Tehila - Rotem Zisman Begin - Nisso Khavia Rona - Aya Steinovitz

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