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By Jordan Hiller




 


Only Human (2006)  

I guess you could say if you’ve see one 2006 dysfunctional Jewish family dark comedy made by a husband and wife team where the unorthodox brood includes a ba’al teshuva son, a promiscuous daughter, and a forbidden relationship, you’ve seen ‘em all. If only I could refer you to my review of When Do We Eat? and say “ditto” (or rather the Spanish version of “ditto”). In Dominic Harari and Teresa De Pelegri’s film set in Madrid, the forbidden relationship takes center stage as this traditional Spanish family meets their new potential son-in-law at a Friday night meal. Compared to the Palestinian intellectual their daughter brings home (Guillermo Toledo as Rafi), they likely would have preferred Pauly Shore. While the comedy is at times sharp but mainly chaotic in that frenzied European style, it seems the filmmakers actually intended to make a statement about Jews, Arabs, and the possibility that love can out maneuver politics and overcome unimaginable historical and social barriers. That is if you are highly liberal, unaffiliated, and uninvolved with the struggles of your people. And this film tries to make the argument between the slapstick laughs that we can all just get along….if we each individually choose to live in a separate encapsulated universe. Of course - although right now I am being way too serious considering how intentionally silly this film is – if you do have a sense of national identity, such relationships will prove difficult to endure, no matter your open-mindedness. The filmmakers do say however, that they made this film in partial response to the terrorist attack on a Madrid train on March 11, 2004.

But now to the true merit of this film and the reason it trumps its American charoset flavored predecessor. It is just much funnier. Funny to the point where I was laughing so uncontrollably on the LIRR, that the business-suited middle aged woman sitting across from me started laughing too. Both films certainly have their somber elements played strangely for laughs (here, a key plot point involves the Palestinian beau dropping a cube of frozen Shabbos soup out of the apartment window and killing his fiancé’s father), however Only Human keeps the lunacy from growing mean-spirited. Also giving Only Human the nod is the rich, believable characters. While WDWE?’ s ba’al teshuva was a sermon spouting chabadnick, the boy here, played joyfully by Fernando Ramallo, is simply a tzi-tzis and yarmulke wearing awkward teenager who lights Shabbos candles, tries to keep the house as kosher as possible, and hits on a Chinese girl just before the closing credits. Also legitimatizing this film as a truly sensitive work is the character played by Maria Botto, as Tania, a twenty eight year old single mother living at home making a living as a belly dancer and a self proclaimed slut. The honesty of her character and Harari/De Pelegri’s ability to find some humor and levity in her misery (by staging confrontations with her religious brother and even a belly dance off with Rafi) provides some much needed depth to what would have otherwise been an all out farce. As far as political statements go, Only Human is kind of immature, but as far as immature comedies go, this one is a winner.


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Please send all comments to Jordan Hiller at jtrick1@aol.com

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Reviews by Jordan Hiller

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