Only Human (Seres Queridos)
|Mari?n Aguilera||Leni Dali|
|Directed by||Dominic Harari, Teresa De Pelegri|
You will seldom come across a movie that works so hard to please. And a good deal of the effort is not wasted. Only Human, a Spanish-Jewish-Palestinian romance, is very funny at times. At other times, it?s like your uncle who keeps cracking jokes and won?t shut up.
Underneath all the ?laughing as fast as we can? screwball comedy is a serious issue: we?re all only human, why can?t we just get along? Leni Dali (Mari?n Aguilera) is a pretty young Madrid television personality She brings her fianc? home for dinner one night to meet the family. Rafi (Guillermo Toledo), a college professor, is so nervous he?s sweating buckets, and understandably so. Leni?s family is Jewish (the name was originally Dalinsky), and Rafi is an Israeli Palestinian. But Leni has only told them the first part. For reasons that can be justified best in situation comedy, she thinks it will be better if she holds off on the Palestinian news until they?ve met him.
Leni and Rafi are in the first passionate flush of romance, so much so that she punches the ?stop? button in the tiny elevator so they can relieve their tension with a quickie on the way up to the apartment. That kind of sexual enthusiasm can smooth over a lot of cultural differences. But the differences are there, and they rattle into the foreground as soon as the front door swings open.
Leni?s family is a Norman Lear wet dream. Norma Aleandro, the great Argentinian actress best known for The Official Story (1987) plays Gloria, the mother. She?s a smart, strong, dominating type whose liberal tolerance vaporizes when she learns Rafi?s true identity, much as Spencer Tracy?s did when Sidney Poitier came to dinner forty years ago. "Palestinians kill Jews and Jews kill Palestinians,? Gloria cries. "It'll never work!" Then there?s Leni?s sister Tania (Mar?a Botto), a promiscuous belly dancer who sizes Rafi up as if he were a pork chop (Tania?s not kosher.) Tania has a six-year-old daughter Paula (Alba Molinero) who keeps a pillow stuffed under her dress and says she?s expecting twins. Dudu, the grandfather, is blind as a bat and batty as a bedbug, and waves around the loaded rifle he used to shoot Palestinians in ?48. Rounding out the present company is Leni?s teenage brother David (Fernando Ramallo), who, after seeing Fiddler on the Roof, has embraced orthodox fundamentalism to the point that he won?t flip a light switch on the Sabbath. In Tania?s expressed opinion, this fanaticism is a compensation for not getting laid. And absent, but part of the big picture, is the father (Mario Mart?n), who works late so often that the family is sure he?s having an affair. He?s not getting any at home; Gloria admits they haven?t slept together since David was conceived, and quips ?there?ll be peace in Israel before your father gives me an orgasm.?
These characters are the brainchildren of husband-and-wife collaborators Dominic Harari and Teresa De Pelegri, who co-wrote and co-directed. He?s English, she?s Spanish. It?s their first time out as a directing team, a venture whose minefields can be as dangerous as the Israeli-Palestinian ones. The movie, they admit, grew out of their three obsessions: family, sex, and the Middle East. The crucial issue of our time, they propose, ?seems to be how to avoid killing the person we're supposed to co-exist with.?
Which takes us back to the story. When Leni drops the P-bomb on her mother, and Gloria takes it badly, Rafi offers to make himself scarce while mother and daughter hash it all out. Gloria asks him to go and defrost the soup. Rafi, all thumbs in the kitchen, accidentally drops the frozen soup container out the window. It brains a passerby, who gives every appearance of being dead. An added complication: Rafi begins to suspect that the prostrate man could be Leni?s father, on his way home for dinner.
A possible corpse-in-law is an added burden to Rafi?s already full load, and the nervousness it generates makes him behave peculiarly, which adds to the family?s already dubious opinion of him. For us in the audience, the suspense is less killing, because we know this is a comedy, and things are bound to work out. If this were Romeo and Juliet, we would prepare ourselves for the worst; but this is Meet the Parents, and you can?t have a happily-ever-after romance with the girl?s father lying dead in an alley, and blood on the hands of her fianc?.
More complications ensue. Some of them are funny, some are labored, but the manic energy never flags. This is a genial exercise in tolerance and harmony. The acting is uniformly good, which helps us over some of the forced patches, and there are plenty of sharp one-liners. Toward the end, the strain gets to the young lovers, and they stand toe-to-toe hurling Israeli-Palestinian epithets at each other like small arms fire.
But love and lust are bound to triumph over such prefabricated, hand-me-down hostility. Down the road, when the fire in their loins has settled, one wonders if the d?tente will continue unabated. But at least for now carnal passion provides a solid basis for a cease fire. Perhaps a Middle East Peace Plan can be built along those lines.
© Text 2006 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be