Departed and yet not gone
Nora’s Will, comedy-drama, not rated, in Spanish with subtitles, Regal DeVargas, 3.5 chiles
IThe table is laid. The finest lace tablecloth is spread, the crystal sparkles, the silverware and china gleam. Nora is expecting the family for Passover. But Nora herself will not be there.
Well, in a way she will be there. But she won’t be the life of the party. Once the stage is set, Nora swallows three bottles of pills, and by the time her body is discovered by her ex-husband José (Fernando Luján), Nora has achieved her lifelong ambition: she is dead.
The timing is complicated, and that is certainly part of Nora’s plan. What with the Sabbath and the Jewish holiday, it will be five days before the body can be buried. As the family gathers at her apartment — son Rubén (Ari Brickman) and his wife and children rushing home from vacation, cousin Leah (Verónica Langer) arriving from across town — Nora is laid out on her bedroom floor, tucked under a sheet and packed in dry ice.
The original Spanish title of this low-key Mexican gem of a movie was Cinco días sin Nora (Five Days Without Nora), but, of course, they are days that are dominated by Nora’s presence, as she clearly intended them to be. What exactly she hoped to accomplish by her extended holiday on ice is not exactly clear, but whatever it was, we can be grateful.
Flashbacks show us the young Nora (Marina de Tavira) and José ( Juan Pablo Medina) early in their marriage, in the ’60s, when Nora had already begun exploring death’s timetable for an early departure. Nora’s depression is established but never examined by the movie. We only know that an impulse toward suicide has long been her companion, that she has made many, many attempts over the years, and that it was this that broke up
a loving marriage and drove José away.
Not very far away. He lives across the street in an apartment in full view of Nora’s window, and the binoculars he finds on her dresser after her death make it clear that, despite the two decades that have passed since he left her, the connection has never been broken.
José, however, has emphatically broken his connection with the Jewish faith. He has embraced atheism with relish. “All religions are the same — money and manipulation,” he tells Moisés (Enrique Arreola), the earnest rabbi-in-training sent by Nora’s spiritual advisor, Rabbi Jacowitz who slips a crucifix around her mistress’s neck to hedge her bet with the Catholic God and touches up her makeup and hairdo in defiance of Jewish law.
Luján anchors the movie with a superb performance that combines crustiness, impish humor, and a deeply felt and always-present sense of his love for the woman he married and left. The other characters are equally good, especially Peláez as the maid and Langer as Leah, the nearly blind cousin who arrives to make the gefilte fish for Passover. And there are two adorable little girls who keep things in a happy perspective.