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Hill Start - Judi Herman reviews a fine tragicomedy from Israel showing at the UK Jewish Film Festival

hill start, israeli film, seret 2015 It's no wonder this engrossing tragicomedy has been a box-office comic sensation in Israel says Judi Herman

What will you make of the Geva family – Jerusalem’s finest? Father and son, who work together at the sharp end of cosmetic surgery, make their first appearance intently drawing lines on the naked flesh of their next client – a young woman who looks pretty shapely already. There is some professional disagreement and it’s soon clear that father Micha (Shlomo Bar-Aba) is pulling rank on son Ari (Itay Tiran) when it comes to enhancing those curves against his better judgement. Ari knows his own mind when it comes to his chosen bride, mouthy private detective Reli (Romi Aboulafia), despite Micha’s disapproval and the consternation of the women in his family. His mother Ora (Idit Teperson) is a super-fit gym teacher and half-marathon winner, and  sister Shlomit (Mali Levi Gershon) teaches Arabic in schools, using the romantic films of her crooner idol Ahmed as a teaching aid and setting writing the diary of a Palestinian schoolchild as a homework assignment.

There may be a touch of social snobbism about the Gevas – Reli is from the Sephardi community – but there’s no doubt that alcohol makes her behaviour pretty challenging. The trouble is that she and Ari drink more than a few premature toasts on their wedding day before the ceremony, and Reli's inability to hold her drink sets off a chain of events that means Ari never gets to break a glass under the wedding canopy that day. The only glass that smashes is the windscreen of Micha’s car as he has a terrible accident driving the whole family to the ceremony.

It’s the rebuilding of bodies, dreams and lives shattered that day in unexpected ways that is the meat of this unusual, quirky tragicomedy. I’d say "you couldn’t make it up", but writer and director Oren Stern and his co-writer Riki Shulman have, of course, done exactly that!

Ora loses the most, for she is left in a coma, unaware that she is surrounded by her  family, who take to meeting for meals at her bedside. Despite Micha’s fury, Ari has to try to find the courage to stick to Reli and reschedule the wedding lest he lose her. Micha himself has to find the courage to get back behind the wheel and retake his driving test or face a life-long driving ban. Thanks to a chance meeting with a pretty driving instructor who moonlights as a yoga instructor (Romi Aboulafia) this apparently insensitive man (he can’t help pointing out physical flaws with a practised plastic surgeon’s eye) learns some valuable life lessons.

Shlomit gets to meet not one, but two potential significant others, thanks to her decision to run the next half marathon through Jerusalem’s streets in honour of her mother. She trains with Motti, the wheelchair-using gym teacher who replaces Ora; and finds the bed next to her occupied by the mother of matinee idol Ahmed, who's played with relish by real-life Arab star Yousef (Joe) Sweid.

Will Ora wake from her coma? Will Shlomit follow in her mother’s springy footsteps and win the marathon? Will she find love with Motti or Ahmed? Will Ari find his courage so that Reli can get her man in the end? And will self-centred Micha learn to centre himself? You’ll have to see this funny, sometimes abrasive film to find out. And if you do, you’ll enjoy some wonderfully rounded comic performances from some of Israel’s top acting talent and find out why it’s done so well at festivals around the world.

By Judi Herman

Hill Start screens in London on Saturday 14 November. 9.15pm. JW3, 341-351 Finchley Rd, NW3 6ET; 020 7433 8988.

Then moves to Didsbury on Sunday 15 November. 6.30pm. Cineworld, M20 5PG; 087 1200 2000.

Leeds on Sunday 15 November. 4pm. MAZCC, LS17 6AZ; 011 3268 4211.

Glasgow on Tuesday 17 November. 7.30pm. CCA, G2 3JD; 014 1352 4900.

South Woodford on Saturday 21 November. 7pm. Odeon, E18 2QL; 087 1224 4007.

Find further info at

SERET 2015 reviews: Do You Believe in Love?

Do_You_Believe_in_Love, israeli film, seret 2015 Funny, tender and even gripping, this is Tova’s story – a larger-than-life matchmaker with a heart of gold, down-to-earth philosophy, a devoted husband and a crippling disease.

Tova conducts her business from the easy chair to which she is confined, loud and proud despite having no movement at all from the neck down, thanks to the muscular dystrophy that struck after she gave birth to her daughter Dolly. “I do everything with my mind,” she declares, and she certainly proves it in Dan Wasserman’s documentary.

Although she has a special interest in would-be brides and grooms with their own disabilities, she welcomes everyone and anyone of any age looking for a life partner. So the film opens with a parade of the long, the short and the tall; the old and the young; the abled and the differently-abled; all looking for love and each with their own wish list. She pulls no punches and is not afraid to ask wheelchair user Yossi whether he can get to the toilet unaided. “Do you believe in love?” is her constant question and she advises all her clients to be prepared to compromise.

And so the viewer is drawn in to the stories of Tova’s clients. You find yourself hoping against hope that they will find happiness with Mr or Ms Right. There’s spiky Rosan in her wheelchair, out and proud about her chain-smoking and entirely unprepared to compromise to impress health-conscious Asi on their first (and probably last) date. The beautiful young blind woman, with whom you get to share the pain of having a potential date hang up the phone when she confides that she cannot see, gets short shrift from Tova, who tells her sternly not to mention her sight until the prospective husband has set eyes on her.

In case you think her successes are few and far between, it is her proud boast that she has arranged more than 550 matches. The filmgoer does get invited to the wedding of one of Tova’s successes, thanks to daughter Dolly who goes on behalf of her mother and relays the ceremony via her mobile phone. The joy of both bride and groom is palpable and immensely touching and Wasserman does indeed give the audience a guest’s-eye-view of the details of the traditional ceremony.

And then there’s the overarching story of Tova herself and her devoted husband Gaby. It doesn’t matter that he has "heart and psyche problems", including a strange compulsion to buy huge quantities of fresh peppers every day. It’s his total devotion to Tova that is so moving and their unwillingness to survive each other as they make clear in the living wills they make on video.

The climax of the film is their 43rd wedding anniversary party, surrounded by their large and noisy family and many friends. The highlight is watching the film of their 1960s wedding, and it is extraordinarily moving to see the young sprightly couple dancing together – she so slender and lively, as she points out herself. But time certainly has not withered this indomitable spirit and she and Gaby are a shining example of what you can look forward to if you believe in love.

By Judi Herman

Do You Believe in Love screens Monday 15 June. 4pm. £14. JW3, 341-351 Finchley Rd, London NW3 6ET.