Schickel on Movies: An Israeli-Palestinian farce. Really

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Rafi (Guillermo Toledo) is, by any reasonable standard, a catch. He's a youthfully tenured university professor. Besides which, he's cute, amiable and sexy. On the face of it Leni (Marian Aguilira) has every reason to proudly bring him home to meet her family. The only catch about her catch is that he's Palestinian and they're Jewish. But she's obviously hoping that given his good nature they can all work out a two-state solution to their domestic version of the Middle East crisis.

What Leni does not fully reckon with, perhaps because she's inured to their weirdness, is that her relatives are all freaking nuts. Her sister works part time as a belly dancer, but spends most of her life cheerfully picking up inappropriate men. Her young daughter wears a pillow under her skirt pretending to be pregnant. The teen-aged brother has embraced strict religious orthodoxy and keeps interrupting the smooth flow of social events on this Sabbath evening by taping over the light switches and hiding everyone's cell phones; there is to be no electronic interference with true belief. Grandpa is a blind veteran of various Israeli wars and keeps a loaded gun handy in case the enemy decides to storm their apartment. Mom (the divine Norma Aleandro) desperately pretends that everyone is normal, and Dad is simply AWOL.

The crisis in Only Human, which is that movie rarity, a truly great farce, is innocently precipitated by the always helpful Rafi. He's given a kitchen task — decanting and defrosting a huge block of frozen soup. Somehow it slips out of his hands and sails out a window, where it lands on a passerby who may be the absent father and may be dead as a result of the accident. Neither his identity nor his fate can at first be fully determined, for by the time the ambulance arrives, the victim has disappeared. In any case, the family is less concerned with his possible demise than it is with the question of whether their father has been cheating on their mother. Off into the night they bucket, seeking truth, but in the end finding some sort of compassion for all concerned.

Only Human is about as wee as a movie can get. Just 85 minutes long, it is a first feature by a Spanish husband-wife team, Dominic Harari and Teresa De Pelegri, and with the exception of Aleandro it features no one any American has ever heard of. This may be to its advantage — you bring no particular expectations of hilarity to it. The fact that it is Spanish somehow helps, too. Different cultures do things differently than we do, and so we're marginally more acceptant of strange behavior in exotic climes than we are when, say, Owen Wilson or Vince Vaughan are acting sort of stupid.

I'm not arguing that this movie reaches the sublime (or muy Espanol) blackness that Pedro Almadovar attains at his best. But farce depends on solipsism and paranoia for its effectiveness. Its characters need to get lost in their own misunderstandings of a situation and then act out of them, in highly physical, door-slamming ways, causing a certain amount of physical — but not deadly — pain in the process. You'll amazed, I think, at just how much silliness clever filmmakers can cram into such a short time, just how how logically you can develop a variety of illogical premises before something akin to common sense asserts itself.

But wait a minute! Is it really so illogical for a nice Palestinian boy to fall in love with an equally agreeable Jewish girl? It must happen from time to time in the real world. Or perhaps we should say it ought to happen or we are all lost to unending stupidity. Only Human, in its deliriously goofy way, lives up to its title, implying that human beings sometimes have no choice but to follow the dictates of their yearning souls, no matter what the fanatics may be muttering outside the camera's range. The movie does not make a big deal out of its live-and-let-live "message"; it's too busy getting its people into and out of improbable scrapes. But it does have a hopeful heart. Above all, thanks to its zippy ways and the intricate logic with which it maneuvers its characters along their vertiginous paths, it makes you laugh out loud — a lot.