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Late Marriage (Dover Koshashvili) 2002


    Set in Isreal, Late Marriage, the first film from director Dover Koshashvili, follows the exploits of a displaced Georgian family as they attempt to arrange the marriage of their 31-year old son. What begins as a quirky comedy of errors, with Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi), its protagonist, placed in awkward situations due to his relatives’ insistence that he needs a wife posthaste, slowly becomes something more harrowing as the realization that more that just his own happiness is at stake grows unavoidable. The principles of the family are based on a dogma that lies somewhere between religious conviction, tradition, and pure stubbornness, and as a result, there’s apparently little room for them to budge, especially when the real reason for the son’s reluctance to marry is revealed. The father says, “We follow our head, not our heart,” but there are obviously emotional stakes to be considered here. As such, the film manages to tweak many sensitive issues during its running time, even if it’s hard to shake the feeling that such ado is excessive, considering the circumstances. 

    Perhaps though, my impression that the mores of these people shouldn’t matter as much as they do demonstrates just how foreign Late Marriage’s sensibilities are to me. I really knew next to nothing about Georgian customs going into the film, and as I watched it, I expected the events to follow a relatively safe trajectory, and was quite surprised when things didn’t pan out as I had predicted. I think it is a mistake to view the film as an indictment of the customs that it showcases. Zaza is nothing less than opportunistic in his decision to use his family’s beliefs to get out of the bad situation that he put himself in, and in the long term, he seems to understand the wisdom that his family is preaching. The tragedy in the movie lies in Zaza’s transgression, not in his decision to reenter the fold, and that’s about as far from a Hollywood ending that’s possible, given this subject matter, which would be a standard romantic comedy in other hands. It’s not at all surprising when it comes to light that the same ideals that the family defends are the main reason that they are still together, but the film never seems to call that bluff.


    There are some elements of the film that disturbed me, no matter what my level of cultural knowledge might be. First and foremost, the director’s approach is far too stagy to achieve the desired effect. What is supposed to be the family’s emotional frenzy feels artificial because of a stylistic choice that results in characters that rarely speak over each other. The camera remains static, and the set-ups are less than visually inspiring. Even the extended sex scene that takes place midway through the film has a perfunctory, calculated feel surrounding it. One need only look to Milos Forman's masterful Loves of a Blonde to see how this sort of scene can be more successfully accomplished. Nothing feels spontaneous here, and since family dynamics are interesting precisely because the clash of personalities and assigned roles sends sparks flying, that sluggishness is deadly. Looking at the movie as a reassertion of its customs, its inability to question the fallacies inherent in the family’s stance (especially their insistence that adhering to such a tradition is “thinking with the head and not the heart”) seems a glaring flaw. As such, Late Marriage seems, like its protagonist, lost in a sea of its own ambivalence.

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Jeremy Heilman