In Nora’s Will, a man battles his dead ex-wife and her religion. This poignant dramedy won seven Ariels (Mexico’s Oscar).
Warm wishes from the dead
A bit like Hereafter, this Best Film and Original Screenplay winner is a warmer, quieter drama. Ex-husband Jose (Ariel winner Fernando Lujan) still struggles with willful Nora (Silvia Mariscal) after she overdoses on pills. She had attempted suicide 13 other times.
Jose doesn’t question Nora’s life in the hereafter. What he struggles with is organized religion. To Jose, religion is nothing but a scam with strict, man-made rules. Born Jewish, he has become an atheist.
Nora honors Passover
Nora had other ideas. She planned her death fastidiously to coincide with Passover. In the film’s opening, we see her preparing each course for a Passover Seder, carefully labeling each dish as she stocks her refrigerator. She also writes by hand in a detailed, cloth-bound recipe book for her faithful maid Fabiana (wonderful Angelina Pelaez, another Ariel winner).
We do not see Nora’s face, but her devotion to food and family is clear. In fact Nora even brews a pot of coffee for the man she knows will find her body – Jose.
Caring for the mentally ill
Jose has lived in an apartment across the street from his ex-wife for years, keeping an eye on unstable Nora even after leaving their marriage. He does not know that she has watched him through her opera glasses all that time. Jose knows little about her life and loves after their divorce.
After he finds Nora’s body, Jose first calls serious, composed Dr. Nurko (wily Juan Carlos Colombo). Next he calls his son Ruben (Ari Brickman), emotive and still resenting the father who moved out but never completely left.
Jose insists on Catholic burial
Stubborn Jose pays for a Catholic burial. Nora’s apartment is filled with floral arrangements, candles and a cross-shaped coffin, much to the chagrin of her spiritual advisor Rabbi Jackowitz (stodgy, hilarious Max Kerlow).
Jose wants to rush the burial, but Ruben insists that they wait until he can return from America with his wife and two daughters. Meanwhile the rabbi’s assistants prepare Nora’s body for burial, topping it with dry ice for a required three days before it can be removed. Someone must remain with Nora’s body at all times to pray.
Nora’s suicide makes her “unclean” according to Talmudic law, says the rabbi. Outraged, Jose thumbs his nose at the holy man and orders pizza – with ham, bacon and sausage.
Meanwhile guests begin to arrive for Passover Seder (Nora invited them in advance). Fabiana prepares gefilte fish, matzo balls and kreplach.
Woman director receives Ariel
Director Mariana Chenillo (the first woman director to win the Ariel) portrays Mexico’s Jewish community with a feisty array of players. She directs the eccentrics in uncomfortable situations with good-natured pokes at organized religion. The film’s dark comedy can feel forced and uneven.
Titled Cinco dias sin Nora (Five Days Without Nora) in Mexico, the film was released in the U.S. in 2010.
As Jose learns more about Nora and grapples with her death and burial, his anger and resentment are honed. Finally, he finds her long goodbye letter. (3 out of 5 stars)
If you like Nora’s Will, you might enjoy: Get Low; Summer Hours.
Nora’s Will 2008 / NR / 1 hour, 32 min
Cast: Fernando Lujan, Juan Pablo Medina, Silvia Mariscal, Marina de Tavira, Cecilia Suarez, Ari Brickman, Veronica Langer, Enrique Arreola, Angelina Pelaez
Director: Mariana Chenillo
Genre: Foreign Dramedy, Dark Comedy
Language: Spanish with English subtitles