|A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Teresa de Pelegrí and Dominic Harari, Spain, 2004, 89 mins, Spanish with subtitles
Cast: Norma Aleandro, Guillermo Toledo, Maria Botto
Only Human is a Spanish, contemporary, urban comedy of manners, that for all its Iberian roots is really trying hard to be a Woody Allen picture.
Leni brings her boyfriend Rafi home for the first time to meet her family - the twist: she is Jewish, he is Palestinian. In their middle class, high rise apartment her orthodox brother, flirty sister, neurotic mother, blind grandfather and bratty niece alternately coo over, misunderstand or provoke Rafi in turn. But then the stakes are raised when Rafiís attempts to help with dinner lead to what he thinks may be a fatal accident.
Itís a culture clash comedy, and clearly a lot of mechanical precision has gone into making it work - one can almost see the characters as pieces in a jigsaw, designed to interlock perfectly, leaving no potential comic pairing unexplored. And yet despite the possibility for some politically incisive satire, the film lacks teeth. In fact the whole picture rather resembles the toy that Rafi gives Leniís niece as a present - a cactus made from felt and foam rubber.
The leads are at least an engaging pair, and the film does have a number of funny gags (ĎYouíre a Jew, heís an Arab - if you have a son, heíll blow himself up!í). But despite some sharp writing Only Human never manages to drag itself out of sitcom territory. Even as the story expands to leave the apartment and take the characters on an adventure across town, the material fails to expand with them and, it must be said, oneís attention wanders in the second half of the film. Several of the characters are revealed to be little more than stock stereotypes who belong in a Fast Show sketch and not a 90 minute feature film. And despite a number of scenes that are invested with some tension, the story resolution is glib enough to make the audience forget there was ever anything at risk.
The result resembles not so much Meet the Parents as a better mannered Spanish version of 1996 Canadian indie comedy The Daytrippers. Or considering its light-hearted take on modern Judaism, it could almost be called Leon the Catalan Pig Farmer.
Funny, yes, but this is pretty tame stuff. In fact, despite Only Humanís moderate entertainment value, one must wonder if the film-makersí greatest achievement has been to turn such controversial topics as the Israel-Palestine conflict, racism, adultery and manslaughter into something so profoundly inoffensive.