As its deceased title character’s final wishes play out for a resentful ex-husband and a house full of quirky guests, “Nora’s Will” emerges as a winning pairing of a good gimmick and something genuinely lovely.
Written and directed by newcomer Mariana Chenillo, this modest charmer from Mexico both carries serious emotional power and qualifies as one of the most entertaining films about a suicide that you’ll ever see.
With low-key tones and Jewish seasoning, Chenillo combines domestic melodrama with battle-of-the-sexes farce in this story, which begins with 63-year-old Nora setting the table for a Passover dinner that she won’t be alive for.
Her suicide, after 14 failed attempts, sets off a string of events that reflect an elaborate plan she has crafted to involve ex-husband Jose (Fernando Lujan) in the preparation of her corpse for burial and to unite the family for the holiday.
First, an order of frozen meat brings Jose to Nora’s apartment. He finds Nora’s body. In the fridge, he discovers containers of seder food labeled with cooking instructions.
Soon, Rabbi Jackowitz (Max Kerlow) informs Jose that due to the holiday and other circumstances, the funeral must be delayed. Nora’s body will have to remain iced, and watched and prayed over, for four days.
Another glitch occurs when the traditional Jewish cemeteries, citing policies on suicide, refuse to bury Nora.
Some of the comedy arises from the ways in which Jose — an atheist and a grump — responds to having to deal with organized religion and the wishes of his dead ex, whom he accuses of manipulating him even after death.
He antagonizes the rabbi and his young assistant (Enrique Arreola) by ordering a flagrantly nonkosher pizza.
Colorful guests, meanwhile, provide quirk appeal. Loyal housekeeper Fabiana (Angelina Pelaez) decides to beautify Nora’s corpse with makeup — a no-no in Nora’s faith. Jose’s curious young granddaughters sneak a peek at dead Grandma.
The tone becomes serious and thoughtful when Jose reflects on his days with Nora, whose depression he treated insensitively, and on the path his life has taken. A photograph discovered under Nora’s bed prompts additional realizations.
It’s no shocker that this story will end with everybody sitting around the table together, but between the opening gimmickry and the seder-spread closure, Chenillo delivers a credible, sweetly flowing human comedy with affecting undertones, keeping you rapt in the moment.
Lujan, a veteran Mexican actor with a quietly expressive face, rivetingly conveys the feelings buried in Jose.
Chenillo slips into sentimentality at resolution time, but the hankie moments she achieves, like so much of this impressive debut, are irresistible.
Starring Fernando Lujan, Angelina Pelaez, Max Kerlow, Enrique Arreola
Written and directed by Mariana Chenillo
Running time 1 hour 32 minutes