Monday, August 1, 2016

Argentine Jews on parade again in Daniel Burman's comedy-drama THE TENTH MAN

Like clockwork every two years another fun film from Argentine writer/director Daniel Burman appears on the international scene to garner another award or nomination for him or one of his actors. Starting wth Waiting for the Messiah (from 2000, and his first film to be seen here in the USA and internationally) through this year's little number -- THE TENTH MAN (El rey del once), Burman has shown us, via his signature comic and dramatic quirkiness, the Jewish community in Argentina, generational divides, and parenting styles of all kinds. Most often, though, that style seems to be via a dad who goes absentee in either body, spirit, or both. In his latest endeavor, Dad is present, all right, but he's always been one of those guys more interested in "being there" for others than for his own son. Yes: He's a "pillar of the community."

That dad is also Jewish, as are most of the other fathers and sons I recall from these films -- Lost Embrace and Family Law are two of his best that come quickly to mind -- and Burman's exploration (the filmmaker is shown at right) of that religious community as found in Argentina is one of the hallmarks and strengths of his films. One of the occasional weaknesses of his movies, however, is that this writer/ director sometimes telegraphs a little too obviously where his film is going. This is the most troublesome aspect of his latest work.

Burman's heroes are often named Ariel (they have differing last names, however), and so it is again in The Tenth Man, as Ariel (Alan Sabbagh, above) is about to leave the USA for a visit with Dad, after years and years away. At the last minute Dad asks Ariel to pick up a pair of velcro sneakers for one of his clients in need (Dad runs a charity foundation in the Jewish district). Once arrived, Ariel, who, over the years, appears to have become a mostly non-believing Jew, is sent on errand after errand by Dad, helping here, helping there, aiding this one, abetting that one until -- oh, my gosh: Have you figured out where this movie is going already?!

In a film such as this, in which the destination is never in doubt, it's the journey that counts most. Fortunately, Burman makes the trip reasonably enjoyable, if artfully predictable. Along the way we meet an attractive woman (Julieta Zylberberg, above, right) who's an Orthodox Jew and therefore, it seems, is allowed neither to speak to nor to be touched by an "outsider." Of course our Ariel manages to get to know the gal, anyway.

Though it's been said that You Can't Go Home Again, this movie proves that not only can you, but that the place'll grab you, suck you back in, and change your whole life. If only. Yes, in the scene above, our hero is getting one of those religious ritual baths. (A non-religious person just might view the film as an example of how faith can turn us all into sheeplike vessels.)

There's currently a crisis in the ghetto -- little to no meat or poultry to be had for Purim -- so our boy must handle this one, too. And we meet that oddball patient who needs the velcro shoes, along with a few others bizarre charmers. It's all very cute, not-quite-real, and certainly not very deep. But it is reasonably enjoyable and short enough not to bore (the movie lasts but 81 minutes). But next time, Señor Burman, surprise us a little, please.

The Tenth Man, from Kino Lorber, opens this Friday, August 5, in New York City at the Cinema Village and Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal and Town Center. Elsewhere? A few more venues are up and coming. Click here and then click on PLAYDATES to see all currently scheduled cities and theaters.

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