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Originally published Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'A Matter of Size': A likable Israeli-sumo romantic comedy

"A Matter of Size" is a likable romantic comedy about an overweight Israeli chef/dishwasher who becomes a sumo wrestler.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'A Matter of Size,' with Itzik Cohen, Irit Kaplan, Dvir Benedek. Directed by Erez Tadmor and Sharon Maymon, from a screenplay by Maymon and Danny Cohen-Solal. 92 minutes. Not rated; includes profanity. In Hebrew and Japanese, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema, through Wednesday.

"Dogs like us, we ain't such dogs as we think we are."

That's how the homely hero of "Marty" comforted his spinsterish girlfriend in the Bronx of 1955.

The sentiments are much the same in "A Matter of Size," a likable romantic comedy that was the closing-night attraction at this year's Seattle Jewish Film Festival.

While the story may take place in working-class Israel in the 21st century, rejection is universal. So are most attempts to come to terms with it. Still, there's more than a little novelty value in the choices its characters make.

Herzl (Itzik Cohen), a middle-aged chef who is living with his mother, loses his restaurant job because his 340-pound weight is regarded as not "presentable." He rants about conformist conspiracies to keep people thin, and proposes to use his girth to become a sumo wrestler.

He even starts working for a sumo coach (and restaurant owner) and exercising with his overweight friends, who are beginning to feel just as vulnerable. At the same time, Herzl is also trying to keep his social-worker girlfriend, Zehava (Irit Kaplan), from realizing that he and his three pals are preparing to take their "two fatsos in diapers" act to a wrestling match

Much of the script's humor comes from the juxtaposition of Japanese codes of honor and Jewish social rituals. Stereotypes are employed, most aggressively in the handling of Yom Kippur and Herzl's very Jewish mother, but they're often accompanied by a wickedly self-deprecating wit. A traumatic event from Herzl's childhood is mentioned, then vividly dramatized in a way that leaves him both smiling and in a state of shock. If you've ever found yourself laughing at a grotesquely inappropriate moment, you'll relate.

The co-directors, Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor, set out to film the sumo scenes in a style suggesting traditional Japanese paintings. At the same time, they don't neglect the more modern look of the Israeli working-class city, Ramle, where Maymon grew up.

The actors are tuned in to the archaic/contemporary mixture, especially Cohen, who emphasizes Herzl's gradual self-acceptance, and Kaplan, who turns Zehava's rebellion into a nuanced turning point. Their chemistry makes the movie.

John Hartl:

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