The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch

An assortment of stereotypes pop up in Michael Stein’s farce, The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch, which is now available on Netflix.¬†Unfolding in a smattering of German, Yiddish and Hebrew, this light, amusing film lampoons two well-worn tropes — the overbearing Jewish mother trying to rein in her rebellious son, and the young Jewish man lusting after a vivacious Christian woman.

The central figure in this Swiss comedy, Motti Wolkenbruch (Joel Basman, in a convincing performance), is an eligible Orthodox bachelor who juggles employment at his father’s small insurance company with his study of economics at university. He and his parents, Judith (Inge Maux) and Moshe (Udo Samel), live together in a nondescript apartment in an unnamed city in Switzerland.

With Motti now of marriageable age, Judith’s raison d’etre is to find him a suitable mate. A consummate matchmaker, she’s completely devoted to this task. In the opening scene, she and Motti are sitting in a car en route to meet Bracha, a prospect she describes as a “real beauty.” Bracha, in fact, is matronly and fond of baking cookies.

At this point, Motti’s imagination takes flight. He has a dream in which he and Bracha copulate wildly to produce a brood of children who will be raised in the Orthodox Jewish tradition. In real life, Motti sidelines Bracha, determined to choose his own bride. “You can’t be choosy,” Judith counters.

Motti, having seen a woman in his class who attracts him, conjures up a vision of what Judith’s hysterical reaction would be if he actually dated this non-Jewish woman.

Having decided to change his nerdy image, he shaves off his red beard and buys a new pair of glasses. The next woman he’s introduced to, Michele (Lena Kalisch), seems suitable, but she fades out of the picture after he meets Laura (Noemie Schmidt), the student who caught his eye.

Motti, sporting a black yarmulke and ritual fringes, strikes Laura as exotic and personable. He admits he’s not permitted to date “shiksas,” or Christian women, but he can’t resist Laura. Smitten by Motti, she plants a kiss on his cheek and sends him photographs of herself. Motti, pleased by Laura’s attention, has a nightmare in which he imagines his mother stabbing him with a knife.

When Motti finally convinces Judith that Michele is not in the running for his affections, Judith has a fit. “I want to die,” she cries in a wholly exaggerated reaction.

In desperation, Motti consults a rabbi, who advises him to look for a wife in Israel. Motti takes his advice, but Laura is still very much on his mind. Meanwhile, he meets Yael (Meytal Gal), a beautiful, spunky woman who gives herself to him. She regards their sexual escapade as nothing more than a “great fuck.”

The feeling is mutual. Returning to Switzerland, Motti learns his mother is still promoting Michele as the ideal wife, but he won’t cooperate. He shows up at Laura’s house party, minus his yarmulke, so as to fit in with her friends. Before the night ends, he and Laura become intimate.¬†Finally mustering up the courage to be himself, Motti introduces Laura to his parents. Judith’s response prompts Laura to break up her relationship with Motti, but the story doesn’t end there.

The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch is entertaining, its cliches notwithstanding.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal, SheldonKirshner.com
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