Leona at the Asheville Jewish Film Festival
Leona may be the first movie to issue final judgment on a character based on his clueless texting during a movie. It’s about time, right?
Set in Mexico City, the film focuses on 25-year-old Ariela (Naian González Norvind), a mural artist whose upper middle class family wants her to marry within their Jewish community. A free spirit — “leona” is Spanish for “lioness” — Ariela instead falls for a sexy goy guy, Iván (Christian Vazquez).
The movie traces the arc of their affair, as Ariela bonds with Iván and his family but refuses to introduce her boyfriend to her own relatives, knowing they would sternly disapprove. At the same time, Leona credibly dramatizes Ariela’s alternate future, marrying the well-meaning but boring young Jewish retailer, Gabriel (Daniel Adissi), who has her extended family’s backing.
Directed by Isaac Cherem, who co-wrote the script with his lead actress, Leona is a carefully balanced film. Its romantic moments often have a realistic touch of discomfort, and Ariela’s family seem kind and sympathetic despite their opposition to her choice of a lover. It’s also not averse to judging its main character almost as harshly as that movie texter.
Leona remains low-key throughout, more an intriguing study of Ariela’s situation than an emotional dramatization of it, but it knows exactly where it’s going, a destination established in its first scene. Viewers may be surprised at how perfect the ending is, even as it declines to wrap things up in a traditional package.
Grade: B-plus. Showing at 7 p.m. April 4 and 1 p.m. April 5 at the Fine Arts Theatre.
(Photo: Menemsha Films)