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Seres queridos (2005)

Only Human

Directed by:

Dominic Harari

Teresa De Pelegrí

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 89 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Gloria (Norma Aleandro) is the typically neurotic matriarch of a Jewish family living in a poky seventh-floor Madrid apartment. Her elderly father Dudu (Max Berliner) waves around his fully-loaded army-issue rifle – even though he is blind. Gloria’s eldest daughter Tania (María Botto) is a nymphomaniac single mother – while Gloria’s younger son David (Fernando Ramallo) has turned to religious orthodoxy because, as Tania observes, he “can’t get tit”. Only the middle daughter Leni (Marian Aguilera) has any vestige of stability – but when she brings her ‘Israeli’ fiancé Rafi (Guillermo Toledo) into this emotional minefield for dinner, she has neglected to mention that the bumbling academic is in fact Palestinian. “Palestinians kill Jews and Jews kill Palestinians”, Gloria exclaims, “it’ll never work!” – and sure enough, peace seems unlikely after it appears that Rafi has accidentally brained Leni’s father (Mario Martín) with projectile frozen soup, while David is determined to wreak revenge on the Palestinian “terrorist” for assassinating his pet duck.

With all its mistaken identities, well-intentioned deceptions and frantic running about, ‘Only Human’ is clearly marked as a farce – but where most farces are concerned with nothing beyond their own madcap power to entertain, this film uses its farcical frame to make palatable the most serious and incendiary of issues, the Jewish-Palestinian dispute. Like the recent Guess Who, ‘Only Human’ marries the liberal discomfort of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? with the riotous comedy of Meet the Parents – and apart from a third act that drags a little, the result is a witty, fresh look at the difficulties of living with one’s loved ones let alone with one’s enemies, when a simple lovers’ tiff can conjure up whole millennia of Middle Eastern conflict.

Some way into ‘Only Human’, it is revealed that when the Dalinsky family migrated to Spain, their name was naturalised to Dali – and it is a name that encapsulates the spirit of the film. For in this comedy of cross-cultural tensions, the insane chaos that reigns in the Dali household reflects not only their own Jewish heritage, but also the surrealism of their famous Spanish namesake. There is no doubting that the Dalis fit right in – their harassed downstairs neighbour may complain about their crazed conduct, but he never blames it on their Jewishness. Similarly Rafi, for all the apparently insurmountable problems that his own ethnicity presents to the Dalis, in fact seems increasingly at home in their company as his own behaviour gets odder by the minute – and before he quite knows it, he finds himself reassuring a lovelorn Gloria that he would sleep with her, thus securing himself a place forever in the heart of a Jewish mother. Even David, who alone of the Dalis tries to get back in touch with his cultural roots, is last seen asking a pretty Hispano-Chinese biker girl what Confucius is all about.

This mix-and-match approach which writer-directors Dominic Harari and Teresa De Pelegrí (themselves husband and wife, one English, the other Spanish) have adopted towards differing cultures may seem somewhat optimistic as a solution to the inveterate problems of Israel and Palestine, but these days optimism is a much-needed commodity in the Middle East – and if nothing else, it does makes for a funny film in a world where nobody’s perfect and everyone is only human.

It's Got: Cultural clash, killer soup, and a lame duck in the toilet bowl.

It Needs: The final third to be less meandering.

Alternatives:

Guess Who, Guess Whos Coming to Dinner, Meet the Parents, Some Like It Hot

Summary

This domestic Spanish farce may not solve the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, but it does offer a hopeful smile for the future.