The year is 2006 and rockets are falling on Haifa. But that doesn’t stop Arik's elderly father from dragging him to a lawyer who delivers the news that a shady figure from their past, Yankele Bride, has died. Flashback to 1968 (where the rest of the film takes place), when Arik (Tuval Shafir) was a young, mischievous teen, spending his days hanging out with pals or checking out books by Dashiell Hammett from his librarian friend Meir (Dror Keren). Playing soccer one day, he encounters an imposing man named Yankele Bride who walks with a cane, a self-described matchmaker who turns out to “specialize in special cases”: from the physically and psychically deformed to shy stutterers. With some prodding from his friends, Arik plays a nasty joke on Yankele, which leads to an unlikely alliance: Arik becomes Yankele’s private eye and right-hand-man, leveraging his youth to surreptitiously enter the boudoirs and back-alleys where prospective clients go to be naughty (or as Arik discovers of one client suspected of adultery, to get bar-mitzvah lessons). When his best buddy’s beautiful American cousin Tamara visits—importing rock n’ roll, free love, and a stinging disdain for brassieres and authority—and both boys fall hard for her, Arik's eyes are opened to the adult of world of competing emotional imperatives.
Yankele Bride (played by Israeli TV comic Adir Miller) is a man of paradoxes. Hardened by the Holocaust and literally scarred—deep cicatrices mar his face—he makes his living trafficking in Haifa’s black market, but his true vocation is finding companionship for the lonely. Yet as one sage character explains, “just as the cobbler goes without shoes,” Yankele Bride is bride-less. His true love and fellow survivor, Clara (Meir Dagan), can offer only a modicum of affection, having suffered her own abuse at the hands of the Nazis.
Matchmaker shows an Israel invigorated by its 1967 military victory, and one abuzz with energy and hope. A sense of relief and euphoria, as well as the pervasive feeling that the past—and the Holocaust with it—should be forgotten, expose the fissures ghosting the Israeli project. Survivors like Yankele were viewed with mistrust because, the thinking went, the only possible survivors of such monstrosity must be monsters themselves. And yet Yankele is a mensch, human despite life's inhumanities. Evoking this confused period in Israel's history, Matchmaker is at its best.
Moreover, director Avi Nesher (The Secrets, 07; Turn Left at the End of the World, 04) skillfully articulates through the film what most Holocaust dramas elide: the psychic permanence of what happened to the Jews in the camps, of how it persisted in the lives of survivors in their new home. In this capacity Matchmaker is remarkable. The film as a whole, though, never really hits its stride, but wanders and trips over its nearly two hours of largely predicable obstacles and twists.