The Matchmaker is what you get when a great character meets a great actor. The character is Yankele Bride. He is a Romanian Jew. He has a scar on his face. He walks with a limp. He survived the Nazi death camps. He always wears a hat. He has a small office in a seedy quarter of Haifa, Israel. He has a mission in life: to make sure all the lonely people of the world find a partner.
The actor who plays this wonderful character is Adir Miller, an accomplished standup comedian and Israeli sitcom star. Miller never loses or drops or overdoes Bride, but always keeps him within a narrow emotional range and set of gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Bride is polite, almost soft-spoken, slow when he moves, never very sad or very happy, never surprised by anything, and always grounded and respectful. One day (the year is 1968), Bride knocks on the door of an apartment to inquire about a young woman who may need his matchmaking services. The door is opened by a man who, after a moment, realizes that Bride is an old friend from his childhood in Romania. The old friend hugs Bride, who he thought had died in the camps, and welcomes him into his apartment. Bride stays for dinner, is introduced to his old friend's son Arik (Tuval Shafir), and at the end of the meal decides, with his old friend's blessing, that Arik should work for him.
For the rest of the film, we see Bride from the perspective of Arik, who is, of course, "coming of age." But The Matchmaker is not about the boy, his family, or his love for a young, pretty, and Americanized woman. It's all about Miller's performance. Whenever his Bride is offscreen, the movie dies a little; when he is onscreen, it comes alive. SIFF Film Center, March 15–21.