Initially, when one thinks about Jews and food, thoughts of an incensed woman demanding “Sweet and Low” for her coffee (and then indignantly pulling it out of her purse), leap to mind. In my foray into the sacred institution of Jewish brunch, it currently seems that omelets ordered “egg whites only” and “without toast” have become de rigueur. Carbs are equivalent to radioactive material, and I hear that buying full fat cream cheese can get you declared “unfit” in some parts. We are a far cry from our shtetl roots where our labouring ancestors languished in schmaltz, pe’tcha gribenes, and kishkeh. The award winning Israeli movie “A Matter of Size” by directors Erez Tadmor & Sharon Maymon, deals with our conflictual relationship to food, gaining and losing weight, and the results of our decision to concede, or not, to societal pressure. The movie examines to what extent physical size dominates our judgment of others and our own self-worth.
(Actually, I have recently developed an inclination, dare I say…sexual attraction… to the portly amongst us, so being asked to review “A Matter of Size” was timely for me. While the other girls coo over George Clooney or Brad Pitt, I get excited by the likes of Jack Black and Oliver Platt. Whether this is a concession towards impending middle age, or an actual belly fat fetish, it feels very real to me and thus, I approached the subject with perhaps unnatural enthusiasm.)
The film centers on Herzl; an Israeli man with a weight problem. Herzl and his large-sized crew participate in a weight loss group run by a fat hating facilitator who judges them harshly. Early on in the movie, Herzl is expelled from the group for failing to lose weight but not before developing romantic feelings for one of the female participants. The story develops when Herzl is moved to the back of the restaurant where he works, as apparently his appearance is offending customers. In an act of defiance, Herzl quits his job and ends up taking a position at a Japanese restaurant setting the stage for his interest in Sumo wrestling. The movie follows Herzl’s life as he tries to come to terms with his weight, his frustrating relationship with his Jewish mother, and his newly found romance. The Sumo wrestling provides the viewer with a comedic backdrop given that 300 pound men running around in diapers is always a crowd pleaser.
Overall, the movie did a good job of exploring a topic that has become hot in North American media and the psyche alike. Like most of America today (both on and off TV), the characters in the movie vacillate in terms of their own commitment to societal standards and suffer the consequences both socially and personally. Is it possible that fat is becoming the new gay? Mucho media dollars- the true say in what is important nowadays- are spent on the topic. The recent fat comedy “Mike and Molly”, the success of “The Biggest Loser”, the “Dr Phil” weight challenges, and the latest diet obsessed show to emerge, “Dr. Oz”, indicate how Americans just can’t get enough of the shows that help them lose the fat, while at the same time enjoying and consuming the foods that keep them fat. The constant interplay between self-indulgence, overindulgence, and self-hatred is what “A Matter of Size” delves into.
In the movie, the self-confidence that Sumo Wrestling brings allows the characters to go through a transformation. Where they initially thought that their weight was at the root of all their problems, they come to realize it may have more to do with the way they were putting themselves out there in the world. Although the subject matter is far reaching, there is no need to despair. The movie stays true to the “feel good” genre. All issues are resolved. He gets to keep the fat and the girl!
Although “A Matter of Size” felt a little long, and a little simplistic at times, it was still able to tackle an issue that can be depressing for many, in a light-hearted manner. The characters and script were down to earth and well acted. Also, although the topic is universal and could have been set in many places, the fact that it takes place in Israel was an added bonus for me. The familiarity of the Jewish mother guilt, the Shabbat dinner, and the freilachness in eating, made my movie watching experience as nostalgic and memorable as eating a bowl of homemade chicken soup; fat in and with two matzoh balls please!
A Matter of Size opens March 25th at The Cineplex Odeon in the Cavendish Mall.