Bonjour. Monsieur!” is how the sweet-eyed, frizzy haired protagonist of this new Israeli film greets his Hebrew-speaking grandfather, entering the home that, as its inhabitants arrive, seems more like a circus than a dwelling place.
In writer-director Shemi Zahrin’s “Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi,” 16-year-old Shlomi is the boy next door: unglamorous, underachieving, lovable, and lost under the maelstrom of family life. Shlomi trudges through his days seemingly unaware that he’s the one taking care of this aging grandfather, plus negotiating an overbearing mother, the father she threw out for philandering, a self-centered older brother, and a despairing sister juggling newborn twins and her well-intentioned but misguided husband. The misunderstandings weaving through the film suggest a future of “fixing” for this unusually nurturing teenage boy. Throw in the distracting, sizzling, age-appropriate female neighbor Rona, and it is not hard to understand why Shiomi’s genius continues to go unrecognized.
Shiomi’s Cinderella-like status—overworked and overlooked by his family—shifts when one of his teachers discovers his rare capacities. Shlomi challenges gender roles. He dutifully serves as head of conciliatory affairs at the Bardayan household, along with being the cook, the maid, and the messenger— a load far too heavy for his narrow shoulders. When he’s offered a place at a boarding school for gifted teens, Shlomi struggles to discover that he can, and must, live for himself, and as himself
It’s wonderful to see this sensitive teen boy find his way. Though the film’s idyllic romantic exchanges easily become saccharine (master chef Shlomi woos expert gardener Rona with baked goods, and she returns the flirtation with an azalea or two) the authenticity of the characters and their struggles make “Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi” notably refreshing. Catch it in commercial distribution and as part of the Israeli film festival in New York, Miami, and Chicago (www.israclifilmfestival.com.)