Writer: Thomas Meyer
Director: Michael Steiner
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The Hollywood rom-com has had multiple variants to its boy-meets-girl format over the years, but they are almost always female-led stories of a single woman looking for love. There have been geeky girls (She’s All That), sassy girls (10 Things I Hate About You), a career woman dating two spies at one (This Means War) and infinite variations mostly starring Katherine Heigl. Michael Steiner’s new Swiss film really switches things up with a story of love, self-identity and religion from the perspective of a young man finding his way.
Showing as part of the UK International Jewish Film Festival, Wolkenbruch’s Wondrous Journey into the Arms of a Shiksais a Swiss film, written by Thomas Meyer, focused on Motti a young Jewish man who works for his father’s insurance firm while studying for an economics degree. He meets fellow-student Laura (a “shiksa”) and falls in love, but Motti’s mother has other ideas setting up a series of meetings with suitable Jewish girls to marry. As duty and self-expression collide Motti starts to chafe at his mother’s overbearing control and his rebellion begins.
Steiner’s film is a charming and subversive take on the traditional rom-com with characters you can invest in and the sweet story of a protagonist torn between the boy he was and the man he wants to become. Motti occasionally narrates to camera creating a direct connection and empathy for him, and while this is mostly forgotten in the second half of the film, the comedy tone is maintained throughout.
As with many rom-coms, Motti sets his sights on an unobtainable non-Jewish girl and undergoes a semi-transformation to win her, and while that has always been a slightly uncomfortable aspect of these films, Meyer’s approach sends the right messages, ensuring Motti’s changes emerge from his own self-discovery and not to win the girl. There are also some more difficult emotional sequences as Motti confronts his family’s expectations, and his own relationship with his faith, that give an unusual depth to the genre that make this an interesting watch.
Joel Basman uses these elements to make Motti a layered character obviously torn between his competing priorities. Basman shows us a very ordinary and likeable man embracing all the normal activities of youth and finding a kind of freedom and joy in them that brings him certainty in his newly-formed character. Basman contrasts this well with the cultural expectations and devotion to his religion that pulls him in difference directions.
Inge Maux is the biggest secondary character as Mame, an unrelenting force whose expectations drive the film and creates a lot of the comedy. Maux’s Mame is fiercely emotional, dominating her poor family and giving Motti so much to fight against. There is a sensitive and supportive relationship with Motti’s Tate played by Udo Samuel with lots of love for his son, while the titular shiksa Noémie Schmidt is suitably unobtainable and perhaps not entirely deserving of Motti’s affection which adds interesting variation.
Wolkenbruch’s Wondrous Journey into the Arms of a Shiksareally offers something different and in a way that feels credible. It is genuinely refreshing to see a male-lead and one that sends a positive message about organically becoming your true self in an endearing, enjoyable 90-minute movie. Looks the rom-com is growing up.
The 22nd UK International Jewish Film Festival takes place between 8th-22nd November 2018 at cinemas across London, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow http://ukjewishfilm.org/
Release Date: 20 November