In this affectionate, bittersweet feature, Israeli director Avi Nesher (The Secrets, SFJFF 2008) conjures up the port city of Haifa in the late 1960s, weaving together stories of coming of age and coming to terms with the past. Arik Burstein is a teenager whose summer vacation explodes with novel attractions, namely the sexy Iraqi-Jewish-American niece of his best friend and a seedy downtown movie theater run by Sylvia and a group of Jewish dwarfs (based on historical persons) who met at Josef Mengele’s clinic in Auschwitz. But it is Yankele Bride, a matchmaker and shady businessman from the Old World, who captivates Arik with his peculiar talents for bringing the misfits of Haifa together in love. Among the additional heroes in Arik’s summer adventures are Meir, a reclusive librarian, and Clara, a Holocaust survivor from Poland whose attempts to battle horrors and sleepless nights are heartbreaking. Nesher’s vibrant film mixes tensions between youth and maturity, between Eastern European–influenced Israeli socialism and the infiltrating trends of the American 1960s, and between the Israeli Sabras and the Holocaust refugees from “there” who will never make a true home “here.” Like Nesher’s other films, The Matchmaker richly reflects the unique Israeli mosaic and is bound to turn into a cherished classic.
From 2008 Festival: Director, Israel
One of Israel’s most influential filmmakers, Nesher was born in Israel but spent much of his adolescence in New York, where he studied at Ramaz yeshiva. At age 18, Nesher left Columbia University to serve in the Special Forces branch of the Israeli army. Nesher’s very first movie The Troupe was a controversial movie that shocked the Israeli establishment by ridiculing the “sacred cow” Israeli military; the film is an Israeli cult classic. A year later (1979) Nesher wrote and directed another Israeli classic Dizengoff 99 and three years later, he took a dangerous stab at a more personal endeavor with Rage and Glory, which tells the controversial story of a Jewish terror organization during the 1940’s. The movie caused a political storm, was lauded by international critics for its searing psychological impact and breathtaking imagery, and in 2001 was selected by the Lincoln Center Film Society as one of the most important films in fifty years of Israeli cinema.
After seeing Rage and Glory, producer Dino De Laurentis convinced Nesher to come to Hollywood. Nesher’s initial work came as a writer, penning studio assignments for such filmmakers as Ron Howard and James Cameron. In 1990, he wrote and directed the sci-fi mystery Timebomb for MGM (produced by Rafaella De Laurentiis) and the sensual supernatural mystery Doppelganger for 20th Century Fox, starring Drew Barrymore. Both films won prizes at the Avoriaz Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival in France, and both have attained cult status among Sci-Fi and Horror aficionados. The success of Doppelganger created an alliance between Avi Nesher and Buena Vista International, which led to the production of several witty tongue-in-cheek action movies, most of which premiered on HBO. Nesher’s next theatrical offering, The Taxman (2001), which he wrote, produced and directed, opened to extraordinary reviews: The New York Times called the film “A delight...a charmer of a mystery” and Jeffrey Lyons of NBC hailed it as “A cinematic gem...not to be missed!”
In 2001, Nesher decided to honor his father’s memory by writing and directing Turn Left at the End of the World – a surreal deconstruction of Israel’s immigration mythology. The movie became Israel’s greatest box office success in the last twenty years, as well as becoming one of the best-reviewed films of the era. Later in 2004, Nesher directed the highly experimental political documentary Oriental, which won the “Spirit of Freedom” award at the Jerusalem Film Festival. Nesher also received the Achievement Award at the 2007 Jerusalem International Film Festival.