During the summer of 1968, Arik (Tuval Shafir), a teenage boy in Haifa, Israel is sent to work with his father’s friend Yankele Bride (Adir Miller). As the summer progresses Arik learns more about the poorer side of the city he lives in, suffering, love and loyalty.
Originally titled Once I Was, and released in Israel in 2010, The Matchmaker feels at once familiar and new. Yankele, a Holocaust survivor who makes a living by bringing people together in the name of love, is played with a mischievous twinkle in his eye by Adir Miller. Miller also brings tragedy, mystery and strength to the role and makes him a character who draws people to him. Arik captures the curiosity and awkwardness of a young man discovering love for the first time, and trying to bridge the gap between childhood and adolescence, Bat-El Papura brings hope to a character who could easily have given up and Neta Porat makes Tamara as mysterious as Yankele, albeit in an entirely different manner.
While there are plenty of historical facts peppered throughout Avi Nesher’s film – which is based on a novel by Amir Gutfreund – such as the Six Days War, and the teenagers’ love of American music, customs and clothing and their parents’ suffering in the aftermath of World War II – there is also an element of the surreal and slightly magical about The Matchmaker, which serves to make a small story rather large, and make the mystery around Yankele Bride even deeper.
Avi Nesher has brought the notion of a magical summer to the fore of the film; Bryan Adams sang about it, and we have all got nostalgia for the one period that changed our young lives. As such, The Matchmaker is also filled with nostalgia for first love and the first time adults treat us as one of them, rather than an annoying child. The delicacy with which this is treated is charming and, even though there may be a little too much going on in subplots for The Matchmaker to feel entirely coherent, that certainly adds to the feeling of nostalgia for a messy, chaotic summer and is part of the charm of the film.
The Matchmaker feels a little like magic and a little like the loss of childlike innocence, but all tied together in a bow of love, loyalty and acceptance. Stand up comic Adir Miller shines as the lead character, and his chemistry with the young Tuval Shafir gives the film a warm and engaging heart, even if the film is slightly overlong.