To be a Jew in Mexico, how wonderful it must be. If you go only by Mariana Chenillo’s new film, Nora’s Will, then it’s not much different than being a Jew here in the U.S. There are black hatters who push their rituals on atheists, sometimes vindictively. There are nervous nudniks with impressively hotter wives. There are Passover Seders and spying on exes and big, juicy slices of sausage and ham pizza. Sounds about right.
Nora, who lives in a building across the street from her ex-husband, José, sets in motion intricate plans to bring her estranged and strained family together one last time by killing herself just before the start of Passover. Since the first two days lead right into Shabbat, all are awarded an awkward four days alone with the body, allowing interpersonal relationships to stew. All would be well if not for the one detail she didn’t account for: her want of a traditional interment with an untraditional death. All of the Jewish cemeteries in the film have a special plot for suicidals and criminals, a place that neither José nor his son will allow her to rest. It’s a comedy!
No death ritual can go without scrutiny, a fact the film explores freely as José considers giving Nora a Christian burial. Is the cross shaped coffin, the extravagant, rigid floral arrangements and the “wake-to-go” service any more “normal”, so to speak, than what the Orthodox Jews offer for Nora? They cover the mirrors, remove the cushions and wrap the body in a blanket on the floor, kept fresh with ice until the funeral a half-week away. The biggest laughs come from José, whose defiance in the face of authority, in this case religious authority, causes the bulk of the film’s mishaps. Even in death, he and Nora cannot reconcile, though he finds her death to be one last joke on him. When he offers anyone with tzitzit a slice of his leavened (it’s Passover, remember) ham and sausage pizza, there is something evil but right-minded in his intent. The men of god, it turns out, are far worse that José could ever try to be. He brings out their ugliest side to see who he is really dealing with.
While I thoroughly enjoyed Nora’s Will, it should come with the warning that it bears all the markings of a cookie-cutter indie drama. That is to say it is dialogue heavy, slow to start and wears its plot points on its sleeve. Nonetheless, it is a fun, engaging and darkly comical piece worth checking out.
Nora’s Will opens at the Paris Theater in New York City today, October 15th. For more information, check out the film’s official website.