Four overweight friends decide to start a sumo wrestling club.

Fed up with dieting, four overweight friends in the Israeli city of Ramle decide to start a sumo wrestling club in genial situation comedy “A Matter of Size,” from helmers Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor. Part sports drama, part love story, this sweetly absurd tale of forlorn blue-collar guys pursuing a difficult goal — and in the process learning to accept themselves — recalls audience-pleasing fare such as “The Full Monty.” With visual and verbal humor hitting the mark, the pic could attract offers from niche arthouse distribs Stateside. A summer theatrical opening in Israel promises hefty returns.

Shy salad bar chef Herzl (Itzik Cohen) weighs in at a massive 340 lbs. and can’t catch seem to catch a break. After getting booted out of his diet group for gaining 28 lbs. in two months, he loses his hotel dining room job when customers complain he’s not presentable because of his size.

Winding up as a dishwasher in a Japanese restaurant, Herzl discovers the world of sumo, where large people are honored and appreciated. It takes some time to convince his heavyweight pals Aharon (Dvir Benedek), Sami (Shmulik Cohen) and Gidi (Alon Dahan) that a sport involving “two fatsos in diapers and girly hairdos” could be for them, but with the reluctant assistance of restaurant owner Kitano (Togo Igawa), they start a training regime.

Co-helmers Maymon and Tadmor (“Strangers”) display a finely honed visual sense and superb comic timing in the cleverly composed training sequences. Shots of the four elephantine guys, clad only in their bright red fighting mawashi, as they jog through green fields, perform the graceful ritual warm-ups, and strain to push one another out of an improvised dohyo (wrestling ring) in the forest are ludicrously funny and beautiful.

Meanwhile, Herzl’s commitment to a demanding men-only sport threatens his budding relationship with sympathetic plus-size social worker Zehava (Irit Kaplan).

Although the story concept could be set anywhere, and indeed, is ripe for a remake, the laconic script by Maymon and Danny Cohen Solal captures the essence of Israeli Jewish humor with dialogue such as “even on a diet, you have to eat,” and “with your mouth, we only talk.”

Subplots involving Aharon’s wife’s infidelity and Gidi’s sexual orientation work better to support the main theme of self-acceptance than does one about Zehava’s attempt to impose a nutritious diet on female prisoners.

Appealing cast comprises mostly Israeli TV vets who dig into their meaty, flesh-baring roles with palpable joy. Trim Japanese thesp Igawa brings a grave dignity to the proceedings.

Colorfully detailed tech package is first-class.

A Matter of Size

Israel-Germany-France

Production

A UCM Films (Israel)/Tapuz Communications (Israel)/ K5 Intl. (Germany)/Mact Prods. (France) production. Produced by Chilik Michaeli, Avraham Pirchi, Tami Leon, Oliver Simon, Daniel Baur. Co-producers, Micha Shagrir, Marc Sillam, Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre, Bill Stephens. Directed by Sharon Maymon, Erez Tadmor. Screenplay by Maymon, Danny Cohen Solal, based on an original idea by Maymon.

Crew

Camera (color) David Gurfinkel; editor, Einat Glaser-Zarhin; music, Eyal Leon Katzav; production designer, Yoram Shayer; costume designer, Inbal Shuki; sound (Dolby SR), Ronen Nagel. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 10, 2009. (Also in Tribeca Film Festival -- Discovery.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Itzik Cohen, Irit Kaplan, Dvir Benedek, Alon Dahan, Shmulik Cohen, Togo Igawa, Evelin Hagoel. (Hebrew, Japanese dialogue)

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