Mexican helmer Alejandro Springall's second feature offers the more earthbound spectacle of friends, relatives, hangers-on, children, mistresses, two maids and cop bound together for a Jewish wake. Individual strands wax hackneyed and anticlimactic, but pic's ensemble kvetching, rendered in broad strokes and replete with kitschy exoticism, could lure Jewish and goyishe auds alike.

Culture shock often proves the stuff of comedy, but the sight of a silver-studded, sombrero-topped mariachi band breaking into a rousing rendition of “Hava Nagila” transports diversity into the realm of the surreal. Mexican helmer Alejandro Springall’s second feature, after the magical-realist Catholic craziness of “Santitos,” offers the more earthbound spectacle of friends, relatives, hangers-on, children, mistresses, two maids and cop bound together for a Jewish wake. Individual strands wax hackneyed and anticlimactic, but pic’s ensemble kvetching, rendered in broad strokes and replete with kitschy exoticism, could lure Jewish and goyishe auds alike.

In Polanco, the Jewish quarter of Mexico City, pic introduces life-of-the-party Moishe (Sergio Klainer) dancing gaily at a celebration for a Jewish theater group. Flinging his arms wide, he pirouettes and drops dead of a heart attack. But such joie de vivre (or joie de mourir, as the case may be) is not shared by those who survive the lively septuagenarian.

Moishe’s embittered daughter Esther (Raquel Pankowsky) has never quite forgiven him for having a shiksa mistress; his divorced son Ricardo (David Ostrosky) buttonholes a funeral mourner to get an illegal abortion for his drive-by paramour; and Moishe’s grandson Nicolas (Emilio Savinni), who fled to Israel to escape a drug charge, returns as a self-righteous Hasidim.

The late Moishe’s friends parade their prejudices and decades-old quarrels while the maids marvel at such alien rituals. Meanwhile, the local chevreman (Lenny Zundel), responsible for the correct religious observance of the seven-day mourning period, peddles his own line of funereal accoutrements. To round out the gathering (though invisible to all but the camera), white-bearded spirit angels Aleph (Enrique Cimet) and Bet (Max Kerlow) try to figure out the credits and debits of Moishe’s life. And then there’s the mariachi band.

None of these characters are particularly intriguing or even likeable, with the possible exception of Moishe’s granddaughter Galia (Sharon Zundel), whose attraction to her suddenly religious cousin supplies all the film’s decidedly sparse sexual vibes.

Springall’s interest lies more in choreographing the colorful intersection of these various individual forces as they conglomerate and break apart. The occasional intrusion of the surrounding, definitely non-Jewish culture further enlivens the mix in oddly positive ways: Grandson Nicolas, standing in a jail cell in long side-curls and full Hasidic regalia, calmly answers the curious questions of his hulking fellow inmates; the despised shiksa mistress finally shows up, only to turn a threatened murderous confrontation into a shared, three-hanky sobfest.

Tech credits are polished.

My Mexican Shivah

Mexico

Production

An Emerging Pictures release of an Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografia/Foprocine/Emilio & Jose Achar/Daniel Andreu-Von Euw/Meir & Roy Raphael/Zury Levy/Goliat Films/Maggie Renzi & John Sayles presentation of a Springall Pictures production. Produced by Alejandro Springall, Maite Arguelles. Executive producers, Renzi, Sayles, Lemore Syvan, Tenoch Ochoa. Co-producer, Trisha Ziff. Directed by Alejandro Springall. Screenplay, Jorge Goldenberg, Springall; story, Ilan Stavans.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Celiana Cardenas; editor, Madeleine Gavin; music, Jacobo Lieberman; art director, Luisa Guala; costume design, Monica Neumaier; sound (Dolby SRD), Miguel Sandoval; casting, Manuel Tell. Reviewed at the Walter Reade Theater, New York, Dec. 18, 2006. (In New York Jewish Film Festival.) Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Raquel Pankowsky, David Ostrosky, Sharon Zundel, Emilio Savinni, Lenny Zundel, Sergio Klainer, Enrique Cimet, Max Kerlow. (Spanish, Yiddish, Hebrew dialogue)
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