One of the new Israeli cinema’s great strengths—the fact that its intimate domestic dramas (like Broken Wings) might take place just about anywhere—is also its biggest liability. After all, Israel’s complex society and political conflicts are perennially (sometimes terminally) interesting. Enter Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi, Shemi Zarhin’s sensitive coming-of-age feature about a nebbishy young boy who makes good. Sixteen-year-old Shlomi (the wide-eyed Oshri Cohen) is the ultimate enabler. He cooks and cleans, cares for his wacky grandfather (Israeli icon Arieh Ellias), admires his swaggering older brother, and tries to mediate between his hot-tempered mother, his hypochondriacal, adulterous father, and assorted family members. Meanwhile, his own talents go unnoticed, until a discarded math test reveals something special.
Zarhin’s film is rooted in the culture of the Middle East—the characters, for example, crack running jokes about Moroccan Jews. But it also seems, like Shlomi himself, a bit naive and formless. Perhaps Zarhin’s story is really an allegory about an artist who lives in a world so conflict-ridden that nobody can see him. The trouble is that Shlomi’s family quarrels seem more real (and more compelling) than his gifts.