“Kolya” locates a spiritual cousin in feel-good crowd-pleaser “Noodle.” Story of a sad Israeli flight attendant whose life gains meaning with the arrival of a 6-year-old Chinese boy whom she attempts to reunite with his mother, pic overcomes a number of narrative conveniences to build an emotional head of steam. Montreal fest’s grand jury prize should help propel the pic to fests, arthouses and ancillary.
Twice war-widowed, 37-year-old air hostess Miri (Mili Avital) has an understandable air of melancholy about her. She lives with sis Gila (Anat Waxman), whose anguish over whether to finally divorce airline employee husband, Izzy (Alon Aboutboul), leads her to treat her sibling with scalding sarcasm.
Returning home from work one day, Miri is pressed into service to watch the young son (Baoqi Chen) of their Chinese housekeeper (Vicky Lyn) as she runs an apparently urgent errand. The agitated mother never returns, so it’s up to Miri, Gila and her clutch of gal pals to figure out how to communicate with the boy (now nicknamed “Noodle”) and figure out what happened to mom and how to get him home.
A story with such inspirational intent faces the substantial challenge of masking its heavy reliance on coincidence with momentum and sheer guile. “Noodle” pulls this off with aplomb, though in the cold light of day, the mechanics become obvious: One of the women in Gila’s crowd just happens to be able to pull necessary bureaucratic strings at all the right moments, while a chance meeting with kind-hearted Israeli adventurer Matti (Yiftach Klein), conveniently fluent in Mandarin, paves the way for a genuinely tense and inspired third act.
Pic’s matchmaking aspects prove the greatest strain on credulity. Miri and Izzy develop a special rapport that could lead to something deeper, while Gila’s long-ago liaison with Matti could give her the strength to finally set Izzy free.
Helmer Ayelet Menahemi, who co-directed “Tel Aviv Stories” 15 years ago and has done docus and commercials since, knows to keep things moving fast. Perfs are spot-on, most memorably Waxman, featured in “Stories,” as the caustic Gila. Moppet Chen, selected from some 2,000 auditions in Hong Kong and Shanghai, is both preternaturally composed and cute as a button.
Tech package is sufficiently tidy, with grain on 35mm blowup obvious but not distracting. “Noodle” is nommed for 10 Israeli Film Academy Awards, including best pic; per rules, the winner of that prize, announced Sept. 20, automatically reps Israel in the foreign-language film Oscar race. Pic preemed domestically less than a month ago.