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Nora’s Will

19 Aug

Party Planning from the Other Side or A Fiesta and a Funeral

About a week ago, I was the only press person to show up for an advance screening of the Mexican comedy Nora’s Will at the Parkway Theater in South Minneapolis. Granted, the showing was at 9 o’clock in the morning, a time when most writers are contemplating pillows and mortality, but you had to figure the promise of coffee and breakfast would get some scribes out of bed. (The breakfast was delicious, by the way- watermelon dusted with chili powder and coconut, who knew?) I also recommend going to see a movie at the Parkway; attached to Pepito’s Restaurant, it is a venerable old theater with murals on the walls and couches instead of theater seats for the first couple rows. So I stretched out with a cup of coffee and took in the movie as if I was in the comfort of my own home, only with far better picture and sound.

Made in Mexico in 2008, Nora’s Will won 7 Ariel awards (the Mexican Oscar) and has been making the festival circuit picking up awards and accolades for it’s cast and especially for it’s writer and director Mariana Chenillo. The film (originally titled “Cinco Dias Sin Nora”, literally, “Five Days Without Nora”) tells the story of José, a retiree living in an apartment across the street from his ex-wife, Nora. José, played by Fernando Luján, is an affable sort who has gotten too old for God and lived through too much not to by cynical about it and through Luján’s portrayal is full of winks and sly moments. His ex-wife drives him crazy, but despite that, he never moved away from their facing apartments, where, the opening credits reveal, Nora keeps a pair of binoculars to keep an eye on José. To say it is a complicated relationship is understatement, and the relationship is further complicated when, as the beginning of the movie, Nora commits suicide. The very meticulous planning includes brewing coffee for José and the attending physician and family friend, Dr. Nurko, prepping and leaving detailed instructions for a Passover dinner and arranging for a delivery of meat to José in order to aggravate him into coming over. If this all sounds morbidly funny, it is; Chenillo’s pacing effectively uses the silences of aging to build a touching honesty into what could have been a farce.

As José attempts to get his son Rubén (Ari Brickman) home from vacation so that he can be there for the burial, he is thrown up against the ancient and cantankerous Rabbi Jacowitz (Max Kerlew) who points out the religious dilemma, that with the Passover and Shabbat coming, Nora must be interred immediately- not an option without Rubén- or kept on ice for the duration of the high holidays. This clash of secular and religious provides most of the comedy and tension of the film, as José goes and makes alternative burial arrangements at a Catholic cemetery, orders a bacon, sausage and chorizo pizza for the Rabbi and along with the more passive and obsequious Rubén, fights for a proper burial for Nora, whose suicide dooms her to being interred with thieves and murderers. As the rest of the family rallies around the bickering and sniping (José continuously and dryly points out that Nora is his “ex-wife”) breaks down to the solidarity of tragedy, with Nora doing in death what she could not in life- hold her family together.

Nora’s Will is bolstered too by some excellent supporting roles, including the faithful maid Fabiana (a warm and determined Angelina Peláez) who takes the young Moisés, a Catholic convert to Judaism who is sent over as a Rabbi Jacowitz’s lackey, under her wing. It’s a movie with a sense of sunny cynicism and hope about the imperfect lives we live, and it should be shared. If you can have it all to yourself, that’s great, but bringing someone with you is better. Nora’s Will opens to the public this Friday at the Parkway Theater for a one week engagement.

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