April 4, 2002
What is the meaning of courage?
In Hollywood, it is often the brave, handsome soldier who risks his life, or the enterprising businesswoman who succeeds against all odds. The triumph of the individual: that's the American Way.
But not all cultures glorify that path, and when faced with a character that chooses a different path, we may be hard-pressed to deem that choice "courageous."
But that's exactly what Israeli writer-director Dover Kosashvili says of Zaza, the main character in his film "Late Marriage," the winner of nine Israeli academy awards and other world festival awards, which will be shown at the Israel film festival here this week.
Zaza (Lior Loui Ashkenazi) is a 31-year-old Tel Avivian bachelor who humors his parents as they fix him up with "suitable" girls. Zaza is handsome, intelligent and successful, so why are they are so worried about him? They're Georgian.
Sometimes we forget that the term Israelis includes as great a variety of people and cultures as exists in America. There are the oldtimeAshkenazim and the Sephardim, the religious, the secular, the settlers, then there are also the new immigrants: the Ethiopians, the Russians -- and each have their own subculture and traditions. In Hebrew and Georgian, "Marriage," Kosashvili's first feature film, portrays one of those subcultures, the Georgian community -- though certainly not at its best.
Zaza's parents -- his mother is actually played by the director's mother ("I couldn't find an actress who could do a convincing Georgian accent," he says) -- live across the street from their prized son, and ship him on many interviews of other young Georgian woman of good families. (Ashkenazi studied for five months with the director to learn the language.) But Zaza doesn't take their concerns seriously, because he is in love with Judith, a divorced mother who is more typically "Tel Avivian."
Zaza's entire extended family gets involved and forces Zaza to make a choice, one they themselves once had to make, and their fathers before them. But how he chooses isn't exactly the point; for a foreign audience (and probably most audiences seeing this French-Israeli co-production will be outsiders) it's the otherworldly values inherent in the relationships in the movie: family loyalty, respect, tradition, community.
Kosashvili, 35, views the world and his film philosophically. "I don't believe that Zaza even has a choice," he told The Journal in Hebrew from his home in Israel. A Georgian immigrant himself who came to Israel at age 6, Kosashvili says the characters are a composite of his community, though the story is something he heard from a friend. "On the whole, I don't believe in choice. The freedom to choose is nonexistent in this world," he said. Kosashvili's worldview is definitely not an American one of manifest destiny.
"Zaza is not seeking the moment when he is supposed to decide. He is searching for the point to which he is suppose to arrive," the director said, noting that his character is not a coward, but one who acts within his own constraints.
But what about love conquering all?
"Zaza is investigating the nature of his great love," Kosashvili explains. "He discovers that his great love is for his parents."