A woman's suicide just before Passover creates complications for her loved ones.

A woman’s suicide just before Passover creates complications for her loved ones in Mariana Chenillo’s warm and entertaining feature debut, “5 Days Without Nora” (also titled “Nora’s Will”). It may not sound like a comedy, but Chenillo loads the scenario with more Yiddishkeit than a gross of matzo, sure to elicit laughs and knowing nods throughout the Diaspora. Though custom-made for Jewish fests worldwide, “Nora” has amply demonstrated its crossover credentials with a string of awards in Miami, Morelia and Moscow, and should easily transfer to Stateside arthouses.

When Jose (Fernando Lujan) enters his ex-wife’s apartment, he finds her dead body along with an elegantly set table and a refrigerator full of Post-it instructions for the Passover meal. Nora (Silvia Mariscal) had attempted suicide many times before (one plot flaw is that Chenillo never fully comes to grips with Nora’s depression), and now, after putting everything in order, she’s succeeded. Though Jewish custom dictates that the body has to be buried quickly, the Sabbath plus the holiday means nothing can be done for four days.

Rabbi Jacowitz (Max Kerlow) is the first to arrive, sparking clashes with atheist Jose, who wickedly enjoys baiting the venerable sage. According to orthodox law, a mourner must watch the body until it’s put in the grave, so the rabbi sends Moises (Enrique Arreola, very funny), a recent convert unprepared for Jose’s irreverence. Nora and Jose’s son, Ruben (Ari Brickman), finally return from vacation with his family, but there’s a further setback when the cemetery informs them that a suicide can’t be buried in sanctified ground.

Occasional flashbacks of the young Jose (Juan Pablo Medina) and Nora (Marina de Tavira) provide some background to the couple’s difficult relationship, though some of the scenes border on predictable, if restrained, melodrama. Far better are the side characters, including housekeeper Fabiana (Angelina Pelaez, perfect), slipping a cross on Nora’s body while getting the house ready for the seder, and half-blind cousin Leah (Veronica Langer), all set to make the gefilte fish. Though there’s an element of caricature in them all, every one of them is an instantly recognizable true-to-life type, lovingly and hilariously delineated.

All the performers appear to thoroughly enjoy themselves, especially vet Lujan, who maintains a marvelously underplayed comic timing yet still gives Jose an emotional heart. Lensing is never less than attractive, while the editing underscores the humor and keeps the pace moving even during some of the unnecessary flashbacks.

5 Days Without Nora

Mexico

Production

A Cacerola Films, Fidecine-Mexico production. (International sales: Latinofusion, Guadalajara.) Produced by Laura Imperiale. Executive producers, Imperiale, Mariana Chenillo. Directed, written by Mariana Chenillo.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, HD-to-35mm), Alberto Anaya Adalid; editors, Oscar Figueroa Jara, Chenillo; music, Dario Gonzalez Valderrama; production designer, Alejandro Garcia Castro; costume designer, Gabriela Fernandez; sound (Dolby Digital), Santiago Arroyo, Matias Barberis; assistant director, Berenice Ubeda; casting, Alejandro Reza. Reviewed on DVD, Rio de Janeiro, Sept. 27, 2009. (In Rio de Janeiro Film Festival -- Latin America; Vancouver, Mar del Plata, Miami, Morelia, Moscow film festivals.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Silvia Mariscal, Fernando Lujan, Juan Carlos Colombo, Max Kerlow, Marina de Tavira, Juan Pablo Medina, Enrique Arreola, Angelina Pelaez, Ari Brickman, Cecilia Suarez, Arantza Moreno, Vanya Moreno, Veronica Langer, Rodrigo Cachero, Jorge Eduardo Cordova, Martin LaSalle.

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