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A Matter of Size: Wrestling with a predictable plot

A scene from "Matter of Size"

2 out of 4 stars


A Matter of Size is a comedy about four overweight Israelis who quit their diets, embrace their fatness and take up sumo wrestling under the grudging instruction of a Japanese restaurateur.

At first glance, it's the kind of feel-good foreign flick swiftly created when an unlikely new premise meets a predictable old formula: The underdogs fight back and learn to love themselves in the process.

On closer inspection, however, it reveals a darker aspect as directors Sharon Maymon (who conceived the story) and Erez Tadmor offer flashes of black social satire about size-ism. Those elements make it hard to slot the movie into the happy category of quirky charmer and yet, while intriguing, they are never significant enough for the film to take on a larger personality.

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In the grim Israeli city of Ramla, Herzl (Itzik Cohen) gets demoted from his job as a salad-bar chef because his size is offending the customers. At his new job, washing dishes in a Japanese restaurant, he discovers fat men who love their bodies: the sumo wrestlers followed closely on TV by the restaurant's pencil-thin waiters and sushi chefs. So Herzl lures his overweight buddies away from the sadistic diet club to which they all belong with the promise of new-found purpose in the doyho.

The first predictable hurdle is to get the restaurant's owner Kitano (Togo Igawa), a former sumo coach, to take them seriously. That one is quickly cleared as the film turns to examine the personal trials of the would-be wrestlers, alternating those scenes with some picturesque sumo training.

Is the neglected wife of the obnoxious Aaron (Dvir Benedek) really cheating on him just because he's fat? Now that he has discovered that some gay men love big guys, will the sad-eyed Gidi (Alon Dahan) finally come out to his friends? And can the group let the eager Sami (Shmulik Cohen), a TV journalist, film their training for the local news?

The most significant of these stories erupts when Kitano tells the one female member of the group, Zehava (Irit Kaplan), that no woman can step inside the doyho, the sumo ring that she has helped Herzl construct. In solidarity, and in the interests of their budding romance, Herzl quits sumo too - only to be lured back by the other men. He then lies to Zehava, pretending he isn't going to practice, a premise improbably extended to create tension in the second half.

It leads us directly to the movie's romantic conclusion - and yet along the way, A Matter of Size has suggested there is nothing inevitable about happy endings. What are we to make of a flashback to Herzl's childhood in which the death of his father is played as pure farce? How are we to view Herzl in a scene where he gets back at his nagging if well-meaning mother with a cruel bit of honesty?

He's no jolly fat man. The movie's darker side is honoured in both Cohen's unsmiling performance as Herzl and Kaplan's tearful one as Zehava. Except for the occasional uplifting moment when an expression of pure joy animates his features, Cohen plays Herzl with depressive solemnity and a hint of repressed rage.

There's a suggestion here of a hard emotional reality: People who have been repeatedly rejected are seldom forgiving of anyone. Kaplan makes Zehava's humiliation more obvious - she cries when Kitano ejects her and when she discovers Herzl is lying to her - but no less movingly realistic. Together the pair suggest a painful social history that makes their final reunion feel merely pat.

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A Matter of Size

  • Written by Sharon Maymon and Danny Cohen-Solal
  • Directed by Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor
  • Starring Itzik Cohen, Irit Caplan and Togo Igawa
  • Classification: 14A
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