Film Review: THE TENTH MAN (written and directed by Daniel Burman)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on August 2, 2016

in Film


In Daniel Burman’s brisk and sharp human comedy The Tenth Man, Ariel (Alan Sabbagh) returns to Once, the Jewish neighborhood in Buenos Aires where he grew up, to visit his father Usher for Purim. A 30-something irreligious Jew who resides in Manhattan and has a dancer girlfriend, Ariel left his home and his roots long ago, and it’s not hard to guess why; just as he’s about to depart for JFK his father calls and instructs him to pick up a few things before he goes, including a pair of Velcro shoes, which Ariel hasn’t a clue where to buy—the ultimate sign that a Jew living in NYC is disconnected from his people. The father is pushy, pragmatic and unsentimental, useful qualities for a man who is the macher of the local Jewish charity (the shoes are for a client who refuses to wear laces); they are less useful to his son, who grew up longing for his busy father’s affection.

Alan Sabbagh and Julieta Zylberberg in THE TENTH MAN. A019_C005_0101PK

In Once, Usher seems to be an all-seeing—but invisible, and all-knowing—yet enigmatic presence, as he continually telephones his son with more instructions; even when Ariel’s cellphone is stolen and he’s furnished with a string of used prepaid phones that have a few minutes remaining on each, Usher seems to always know his son’s number. The father’s approach to helping could be described as “guerrilla charity,” such as when he sends Ariel to assist Eva (Julieta Zylberberg), a mysterious Orthodox young woman who prefers not to speak, in cleaning out the medicine cabinet of a deceased local to see if there are medications there that another member of the community needs. Or when a hungry client is advised to go eat at a bar mitzvah, and then given a gift to bring with him. Usher’s methods are improvised and messy, and Ariel’s efforts as a stand-in for his father are awkward at first. But before long, and almost in spite of himself, he finds his groove as acting macher—like a penguin that grew up on land who suddenly finds himself in the ocean.

Julieta Zylberberg in THE TENTH MAN. A002_C023_0101FL

The template of a man reluctantly revisiting his roots only to find himself has been used to make many dull, sappy, soulless movies, and it would be a mistake to lump The Tenth Man, which Mr. Burman also scripted, with those. Rich with nuance and precise observations with respect to its protagonist and the Buenos Aires Jewish community in general, shot by cinematographer Daniel Ortega in a documentary style that is both intimate and unobtrusive, boasting natural performances and characters rendered with clear-headed affection, and peppered with metaphors that resonate but don’t overwhelm the organic reality from which they spring, The Tenth Man is both a document and a statement, and watching it is a delight.

Alan Sabbagh in THE TENTH MAN

photos courtesy of  Kino Lorber Incorporated

The Tenth Man (El rey del Once)
Kino Lorber Incorporated
Argentina | 2015 | Color | 80 minutes
in Spanish with English subtitles
limited release begins August 5, 2016
for more dates and cities, visit Kino Lorber

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