Amer­i­can gigolo now an age­ing hus­tler


WRITER-DI­REC­TOR Joseph Cedar’s lat­est fea­ture is sub­tle, sur­pris­ing and does a fine job of com­bin­ing pathos, gen­tle, char­ac­ter-based com­edy and po­lit­i­cal satire. It’s the story of Nor­man Op­pen­heimer (Richard Amer­i­can Gigolo Gere), a small-time “shady Jewish

macher ” as he is de­scribed at one stage. Based in New York, Nor­man is a “fixer”: he in­tro­duces politi­cians and busi­ness peo­ple to one an­other and tries to in­sert him­self into their lives.

He is well used to hu­mil­i­a­tion. Ev­ery­one tries to brush him off. “You’re like a drown­ing man try­ing to wave at an ocean liner,” he is told. Typ­i­cally, he turns the re­mark into a com­pli­ment. “But I am good swim­mer,” he protests.

In the course of the film, Nor­man elic­its our pity, our dis­dain and also, against the odds, our sym­pa­thy.

Gere plays him beau­ti­fully, cap­tur­ing his need­i­ness, his per­se­ver­ance and his strange in­no­cence. (At times, the per­for­mance rekin­dles mem­o­ries of Peter Sellers as the gar­dener-turned­politi­cian in Be­ing There.)

The scene in which he comes to­gether with Is­raeli deputy min­is­ter of trade and labour Eshel (Lior Ashke­nazi) is clev­erly ob­served. As ever, Nor­man is des­per­ate to in­gra­ti­ate him­self. He buys the politi­cian a pair of very ex­pen­sive shoes. This is his “foot in the door”.

As Eshel’s ca­reer takes off, the politi­cian (now prime min­is­ter) re­mem­bers Nor­man. “He helps the lump in my ch­est dis­ap­pear,’ Eshel says of Nor­man’s un­likely abil­ity to re­lieve the stress in oth­ers, even as he piles it on him­self.

Nor­man makes prom­ises on which gen­er­ally he can’t de­liver. With Eshel’s pa­tron­age, he briefly be­comes a man of real in­flu­ence – but he is also quickly and un­wit­tingly in­volved in a full-blown po­lit­i­cal scan­dal.

Cedar has a fine cast – Steve Buscemi as a rabbi, Michael Sheen as a lob­by­ist, Char­lotte Gains­bourg as an an­ti­cor­rup­tion lawyer, Ashke­nazi as the politi­cian – but the ac­tors here are foils to Gere’s Nor­man. He is in vir­tu­ally ev­ery scene and he is al­ways the one mak­ing the run­ning.

The film is full of ironies. Nor­man is sup­pos­edly the hus­tler but he has re­serves of loy­alty and de­cency that his would-be clients lack. He is ei­ther men­da­cious or delu­sional or both, claim­ing friend­ships that don’t ex­ist. None­the­less, when he is thrown out of a din­ner party that he has gate­crashed (“You just can’t walk in and sit at my ta­ble”), he some­how re­tains his dig­nity.

He is ready to field calls from im­por­tant con­tacts on his mo­bile phone. Even if he is ly­ing in the rub­bish or sit­ting alone in the bus sta­tion, he’ll make it seem that he is in his of­fice or at an im­por­tant func­tion.

He al­ways wants to help – to raise money to keep his lo­cal syn­a­gogue open or to ped­dle in­flu­ence to get a friend’s son into an Ivy League col­lege.

We’re in a cut-throat world of pol­i­tics and schmooz­ing but the wist­ful mu­sic and play­ful chap­ter ti­tles give the film the feel of a folk tale or of a slightly darker ver­sion of a Woody Allen com­edy.

Richard Gere as Nor­man Op­pen­heimer in Nor­man: The Moder­ate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.

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