Matchmaking | St. Louis Jewish Film Festival 2024

Nechama (Liana Ayoun, center) meets a potential suitor in Matchmaking.

In the Orthodox Jewish world, matchmaking is serious business. Families engage with professional matchmakers who, for a price, will hunt down available matches that will enhance the family’s stature, or at least not denigrate it for the other kids in the family that will later need to be married off. The couple—still kids, really—go through an elaborate dating and courtship ritual until they’ve found someone they like…or can settle for…or can at least tolerate, ending the process (and their parents’ anxiety) with a vort, a proposal of marriage.

Into this world steps Moti (Amit Rahav), who is relatively handsome, relatively charming, relatively well-off, from a respected Ashkenazi Jewish family, and a dedicated scholar of the Talmud at yeshiva. That makes the job seemingly easy for matchmaker Malki (Irit Kaplan), who offers the lad a seemingly neverending lineup of potential brides. Moti doesn’t seem too smitten with any of his choices, but Malki really thinks she’s nailed it when she pairs him with Naomi Friendlander (Marni Woolf), a gorgeous American whose rough grasp of Hebrew is topped by her fashion sense and easy sense of humor—oh, and her family is rich, meaning he can avoid work and dedicate the rest of his life to study. This appeals to Moti, but unfortunately for her—and for Moti’s parents (Guy Loel, Netta Shpigelman) who are desperate to see him bring home a fellow Ashkenazi girl—he only has eyes for Nechama (Liana Ayoun), a friend of his little sister’s. The problem: Nechama is a Sephardic Jew. This matchmaking world operates almost like a caste system, with Ashkenazi Jews at the top and Sephardic Jews like Nechama, whose family hails from Morocco, at the bottom, shunned for their different diet and continued embrace of Arabic customs. Nechama’s father (Roy Assaf), meanwhile, is desperate to see her married off to an Ashkenazi man, and has taken to getting her matched up with the lower tier Ashkenazim available to her—those with social anxiety, or asthma, or lazy eyes, or other infirmities. But if Moti can’t get matched to Nechama the old-fashioned way, maybe he can game the system. With the help of Baruch (Maor Schwietzer), a man who operates as a sort of den mother at the yeshiva who (unbeknownst to Moti) is a secret partner with matchmaker Malki, Moti hatches a plan to win an audience with his dream girl.

There’s a bit of Romeo and Juliet in this tale of star-crossed lovers separated by family and custom, but the similarities don’t run too deeply, and not just because Matchmaking is a comedy and not a tragedy. Director Erez Tadmor (who co-wrote the film with Hava Divon and Yaki Reisner) doesn’t center the film around romance, but rather around family and customs and the way they collide. The matchmaking process is surreal, and Tadmor really highlights the surreality and artificiality of it, particularly in the way he captures the oddly standardized dates, where each one takes place in the same hotel lobby, every potential groom wearing the same outfit, every wannabe bride asking the same questions about faith and family, each person ordering the same separate bottles of mineral water—never booze, and never, God forbid, eating food on the first date. It’s all so mechanistic and leaves so little room for connection or romance that it’s refreshing when Moti swerves, unable to fight the feelings that keep him up at night.

Matchmaking succeeds largely because it feels so real, heightening the more ridiculous aspects of the dating dance without ever going too broad or over-the-top (though the “plan” mentioned above does take it dangerously close to toppling over into farce). The side characters are the most fun to watch, particularly Baruch as the wingman who knows all but hides an ulterior motive, and I also loved every moment spent with both sets of exasperated but very loving parents. The leads end up being slightly less defined than they probably should be—Nechama gets short shrift as she spends much of the first half of the film as the unattainable love interest, though in the back half Ayoun imbues her with an appealing passion and independent streak. Rahav’s Moti is suitably charming, but he’s also given many scenes where he is silent, an odd stylistic choice that comes off more awkward than I think Tadmor intended.

Matchmaking has its wobbly moments and it lacks the grand romantic sweep that the “a light Orthodox twist to Romeo & Juliet” tagline implies. But it also has charm to spare with an appealing cast full of big personalities, and offers a fascinating, lightly satirical deconstruction of the strictures the Orthodox community puts on their rigid take on the road to romance. | Jason Green

In Hebrew with English subtitles. Matchmaking screens as part of the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival on Sunday, April 14 at 3:30pm at B&B Theatres’ West Olive 10 in Creve Coeur (12657 Olive Blvd.). To purchase tickets or to check out the full festival lineup, visit

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