A Dramatic comedy
A woman sets her table for a big, family dinner, carefully arranges her apartment, then commits suicide. Over the next few days, her family and religious community will have to grapple with their feelings for her, each other, and Judaism.
(Oddly, this is the second Mexican film about death in a Jewish family I’ve seen in the last four years. The other, My Mexican Shivah, was also excellent.)
Nora’s Will (The original title, Cinco días sin Nora, translates as Five Days Without Nora), concentrates on the deceased’s ex-husband, José (Fernando Luján). I use the term ex advisedly. He has to keep reminding everyone that they divorced 20 years ago. Writer/director Mariana Chenillo never explains why their divorce isn’t recognized by the religious community, but I suspect that José never bothered to get a religious divorce. He’s an atheist of the rabid, Richard Dawkins variety.
Much of the film’s considerable comedy comes out of the way he eagerly offends people of faith. Nora killed herself just before Passover, and there he is, at the seder table, offering bacon pizza to the rabbi–all under the watchful eye of the crucifix brought by the Catholic funeral home he’s contracted to handle Nora’s remains. The film allows us to laugh at this aging man’s adolescent behavior without actually approving of it. We see how he hurts people, and makes matters worse.
Besides, José soon has other problems to worry about. A photo he finds on the floor sets him frantically searching through Nora’s things for a key to their life together.
Nora planned her demise carefully. She not only timed it for Passover, but during a week when her grown son and his family are on vacation, forcing them to rush back home. Her kitchen is filled with food and instructions for the seder (the ceremonial Passover meal). She left envelopes addressed to those close to her.
José couldn’t care less about the seder, or about the problems of providing a suicide with a proper Jewish burial. But his son and daughter-in-law care, and he cares about them. He’s going to learn a lot in those five days.
My own mother’s Jewish funeral happened not quite a year ago. The circumstances were very different from those in this film (I’m glad to say), but Nora’s Will still brought back occasional memories. It’s a beautiful, funny, and touching motion picture.