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Under The Radar No More: Nora’s Will—dvd review

Last year I became an advocate for a Mexican import called Nora’s Will that, I’m happy to say, is now available on DVD. It first came to my attention because I put considerable stock in Menemsha Films, the small, dedicated distributor that acquired it for U.S. release. Company founder Neil Friedman was so convinced that it would be a word-of-mouth success that he opened it in New York and Los Angeles—and did better business the second weekend than he did the first (despite a lone negative review from The New York Times.

Now that the film is available for viewing at home, I hope it will reach an even wider audience.

Quiet, original, irreverent, ironic: these are some of the adjectives that describe Mariana Chenillo’s bittersweet—

—comedy about a Jewish family dealing with the death of its matriarch on the eve of Passover. The main character is Nora’s ex-husband, played with quiet authority by Fernando Luján, a veteran actor who reminds me of another venerable performer, Fernando Rey—the kind of man who can effortlessly command the screen. His character is pragmatic, unsentimental, and self-possessed, making him a kind of straight man for the colorful parade of people who invade Nora’s apartment in the days following her demise—including an Orthodox rabbi, his young and inexperienced disciple, Nora’s devoted Catholic housekeeper, a well-meaning cousin, and finally, Nora’s son, with his wife and two young daughters, who treat the experience of seeing their grandmother’s corpse as an adventure.

Why Nora took her own life, and why her ex-husband José refuses to serve the Passover dinner she left behind for her family, is for you to discover in this disarming, pitch-perfect chamber piece. It is a film of modest ambitions, but it’s so well realized that it left me with a smile of satisfaction—a reward too few films offer nowadays. I suspect other, flashier foreign films with bigger promotional budgets will capture the lion’s share of media attention this movie season, but I doubt any will surpass this one for pure enjoyment.

P.S. Once you’ve seen the film, I think you’ll enjoy this brief but telling interview with its writer-director. Scroll down to the bottom of the page at menemshafilms.com.

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