The mail-order bride business in Israel is entertainingly portrayed by Michal Vinik in Valeria Is Getting Married, which will be screened at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival on June 8.
Droll yet tense, and set in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam, this enjoyable movie underscores the intermittent joys and pitfalls of the transactional, hit-and-miss approach to dating and matrimony.
Christina (Lena Freifeld), a Ukrainian in her mid to late thirties, is a mail-order bride herself. She has learned Hebrew and works in a beauty salon. Her Israeli husband, Michael (Yaakov Zada), earns his living by hooking up Israeli men with Ukrainian women. His latest acquisition, Valeria (Dasha Tvoronovich), is Christina’s younger sister. She has been set up with Eitan (Avraham Shalom Levy), who paid $5,000 for the introduction.
Eitan and Valeria actually met on Skype and seemed compatible. Valeria agreed to meet Eitan in person, and now, on the eve of her imminent arrival in Israel, Christina is overjoyed.
Before picking up Valeria at the airport, Michael expresses concern about the quality of Christina’s soup on the stovetop. It doesn’t taste quite right, and he asks her to phone his mother to improve it to his specifications.
This is the first hint that Michael is finicky and hard to please. The second one is telegraphed by Michael’s refusal to allow Valeria to smoke in his apartment. Christina, seemingly meek and mild, does not challenge his whims and edicts. She requires his approval for whatever she needs.
In the meantime, Christina accentuates the positive and the pragmatic, raving about Israel’s generally fine weather, impressing upon Valeria the importance of finding “a good guy with good money,” and assuring her that she can have the “best life” in Israel.
Eitan, a fumbling bachelor, appears to be Valeria’s ticket to happiness. Upon meeting her in the flesh, he bears a panoply of gifts, spouts Russian proverbs, and informs Valeria he has enrolled her in Hebrew language classes.
It’s clear that Eitan is a nice, decent, well-meaning person, but he comes on too strongly, as far as Valeria is concerned.
When Valeria asks Christina if she loves Michael, she does not answer the question directly. “I have a good life here,” she replies, implying that romance plays second fiddle to convenience.
In accordance with their understanding, Valeria is supposed to accompany Eitan back to his flat. But she does not cooperate, embarrassing Michael and Christina and humiliating Eitan. Christina tries to resolve the problem, but Valeria is adamant.
Heart-broken by Valeria’s rejection, Eitan lets out a cry of despair: “I just want you to be happy. You are my woman.”
Michael, regarding Valeria as damaged goods, is prepared to send her back to Ukraine immediately, but he’s none too eager to return his brokerage fee to Eitan. As for Eitan, he insists that only Valeria can please him. Christina seeks a solution that will enable Valeria to remain in Israel, regardless of her feelings toward Eitan.
The film, ably directed and cast by Vinik, moves along at a brisk pace and proves the point that a long-distance relationship tends to be superficial and cannot guarantee a positive outcome.