The Long Goodbye

sarris2 2 The Long GoodbyeMy Mexican Shivah
Running time 98 minutes
Written by Alejandro Springall and Jorge Goldenberg
Directed by Alejandro Springall
Starring Sergio Kleiner, Blanca Guerra, Raquel Pankowsky, Sharon Zundel

Alejandro Springall’s My Mexican Shivah, from a screenplay by Jorge Goldenberg and Mr. Springall, based on a story by Ilan Stavans, is another of the recent examples of the Jewish Diaspora absorbed in the preservation of its identity and its rituals in countries around the world. As its title indicates, My Mexican Shivah is all about the seven-day mourning period after the death of a loved one. In this instance, grandfather Moishe (Sergio Kleiner), a patriarchal community’s life of the party, drops dead after cavorting to the noisy rhythms of a mariachi band. Moishe’s funeral is enlivened by all the fussiness attendant on rearranging his corpse in the coffin to satisfy ancient beliefs about the best way to make sure that he is accompanied to his next destination by the angel of light instead of the angel of darkness. According to Jewish religious belief, the moment a Jew is born, he or she is accompanied by the two aforementioned angels. To add to the fun, we get to see these two “angels,” two heavily bearded ancients in rabbinical garb, forever bickering over Moishe’s faults and virtues.

We gradually learn through successive revelations at the seven-day shivah that Moishe had abandoned his family to live with a shiksa named Julia Palafox (Blanca Guerra). Julia discreetly avoids attending Moishe’s funeral, but her absence doesn’t appease Moishe’s perpetually outraged daughter, Esther (Raquel Pankowsky), who threatens to tear Julia’s eyes out of their sockets if the interloper ever shows up at either the funeral or the shivah. Esther is also morbidly curious about the state of her long absent daughter’s virginity. The daughter, Galia (Sharon Zundel), enjoys teasing her mother with an enigmatic smile when the subject of her attachments is raised. For her part, Galia pursues a hitherto drug-addicted cousin Nicolas (Emilio Savinni), who has discovered his religious faith in Israel, and now dresses accordingly. These and a dozen other characters swirl through the shifting moods of the shivah as more and more family secrets are revealed, and old alliances are replaced by new ones. In the end, the angel of light prevails, despite all of Moishe’s all-too-human failings. And his extended family finds a measure of peace and acceptance in the forgiving imperatives of the shivah.

asarris@observer.com