Sometimes when I think of familial comedy, my mind automatically jumps to the Focker franchise. The premise of these stories always revolve around outlandish scenarios in order to paint Robert De Niro as the straight man and Ben Stiller as the schlemiel.
But in other countries, I’m finding, it’s all a bit more subtle. Tuesday night, I headed to AFI Silver Theater to watch such a movie that was part of the Washington Jewish Film Festival. “Judios en el espacio” (Jews in Space), an Argentinian film, relies on character interactions for humor. The crotchety old grandpa who poisons himself has a voice message daring people to leave him a message when he might drop dead before returning it. His estranged daughters talk about one sister’s recent conversion to Orthodoxy—the youngest sister mumbles nonchalantly, “I’d rather have cancer.” Protagonist Tito, a 26 year old man, endures his co-worker’s jibes about “wanting to be related to him” as a way of illuminating their lust for his cousin and all-around object of desire, Luciana.
The story begins with a prologue when Tito and Luciana are young children performing in a play that transports the Passover story to outer space. Dressed as Luke Skywalker and playing the part of Moses, Tito freezes on stage. Later that night, he catches Luciana stealing something from his mother’s drawer when they were supposed to be hunting for the afikomen. Sixteen years later, Tito’s lack of assertiveness and Luciana’s kleptomania continue to be main themes of the story, but they don’t overtake the main plot—how the two cousins attempt to create a Passover seder of old for their estranged family and ailing grandfather. It was truly a touching story as well as comedic.
“Judios in el espacio” was co-sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Argentina and the U.S. Embassy of Argentina. It is one of eight Argentinian films featured in the festival this year, and the second one I’ve covered, following last year’s review of “La Camera Obscura.”
The Washington Jewish Film Festival continues until Dec. 11. Click here for more information.