Late Marriage relies on the element of surprise, so it's rather difficult to describe its effect (in fact, if you'd rather have no idea what you're in for, stop reading now and get to the theater). This award-winning Israeli film begins as an amiable but poky comedy of manners and morphs into something decidedly more disturbing in its stark inevitability. By the time writer-director Dover Koshashvili wrenches the final twist, Late Marriage is laid bare for what it is: a mesmerizing cultural tragedy with a devastating effect.
Detailing the rigid social morés of the Georgian immigrant community in Israel, Late Marriage follows the feinting, dodgy love life of Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi), a thirty-one-year-old man whose father (and mother) are confident they know best. As the film begins, the reluctant bachelor is intent on sabotaging an arranged marriage set-up. The extended sequence triggers knowing reactions, at first, then a bout of head-scratching. What exactly is going on here? Koshashvili, with no concession to exposition, seems to simply observe, and trusts the audience will follow. The effect of this technique, inextricably caught up for American audiences with a cultural belief that seems--at least initially--foreign, is disorienting and provocative. Koshashvili takes another kind of hairpin turn (to similar effect) with an extended, frank lovemaking sequence capturing the sexy ease of lovers who've already gotten to know each other.
Koshashvili, with an unblinking gaze, sizes up the terrible power family can wield over an individual's will. The deadpan, often unnerving style defies pacing conventions we didn't realize we rely upon—implicating us in the tyranny of tradition. One climactic edit had me momentarily convinced the print had skipped a reel; at first, such a moment might seem a needlessly jarring stunt, but it approximates the disconnected torment in which the tragic hero finds himself. As the silent credits roll, the truth sinks in: the chorus has as little insight as its tragic hero and those haplessly positioned in his immediate wake. There's very little hope of salvation for this lost community, these lost generations.