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By Phil Hall | July 1, 2004

“Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi” is an abrasive Israeli comedy about a teenager who is taken advantage of by nearly everyone around him, until a hitherto unknown aspect of his personality is brought to light and changes his world. At least it is supposed to be a comedy – it is billed that way, though genuine laughs are hard to come by.

Shlomi is a combination nanny/cook/maid in his own home. He has to bathe his grandfather (who may be senile and an invalid, yet is given to periods of cogency and vitality). He cooks surprisingly elaborate meals for his mother, an obnoxious nurse, and his estranged hypochondriac father, who was thrown out by his mother for being unfaithful. He has to look after his older sister’s twin babies and he makes sure that his brother, a would-be ladies’ man with rock star ambitions, takes his kidney medication. He also does the grocery shopping and laundry. At school, Shlomi seems to be lacking friends and his alleged girlfriend won’t allow him to get near to her. Yet his principal discovers accidentally that Shlomi (who is failing his classes) actually possesses spectacular mathematic and artistic skills which are uncommon for a youth. Even more amazing is the new next door neighbor, a pretty gardener named Rona, who believes Shlomi is actually cute and worth knowing.

“Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi” feels like an old-fashioned “Afterschool Special” padded into a feature film and spiced with casual vulgarities. The comedy primarily consists of a tinny exchange of endless insults and lame non-sequiturs to remind us that we are dealing with caricatures rather than characters (the quasi-senile grandfather telling war stories of fighting the Japanese in Turkey, the father groaning with unconvincing sighs of his latest psychosomatic illness). It also doesn’t help that Oshri Cohen as Shlomi has no acting talent and is perhaps the least sympathetic object of sympathy to turn up on a screen in recent films. He sleepwalks through the film with the same blank expression, offering no clue that he is capable of generating any emotion besides boredom.

It is not a secret that the Israeli moviegoers have little (if any) pride in their local film industry. With productions like “Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi,” it is easy to see why.

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