Nora’s Will (Menemsha Films, NR)

He’s never really stopped loving Nora, a fact which becomes clearer as he starts to remember their life together as a young couple.

Anyone can manipulate people while they’re alive; it takes a real pro to do it from beyond the grave. Nora (Silvia Mariscal) is a master of the art, and her talents are on display in Nora’s Will, an assured first feature from the Mexican director Mariana Chenillo. Lest you think Nora’s Will is a feature about a shrewish woman, however, let me assure you that Nora’s machinations have everyone’s best interests at heart, and the end result proves another old adage, that there’s almost nothing that can’t be helped by a good meal with friends and family.

José (Fernando Luján) was once married to Nora, but they divorced many years ago, in part because he finally gave up trying to deal with her erratic behavior. They still live across the street from each other, however, but go about their separate lives. Imagine José’s surprise when one morning Nora’s doorman comes by with a shipment of frozen meat, saying that she left directions that the meat should be delivered to José’s flat if it arrived when she was not at home. It turns out that Nora is at home, but in no condition to either answer the doorbell or accept a shipment of meat: After years of struggling with mental illness, she took an overdose of pills and has departed for the next world. To make matters more even interesting, Passover is about to begin, and if she can’t be buried before 3 p.m., the burial will have to be put off for three days (the first two days of Passover, plus the Sabbath).

José at first resents being drawn into this complicated situation, not only because it involves his ex-wife, but also because he’s become a confirmed atheist who becomes more than a little annoyed with the rabbi and his associates who arrive to carry out the rituals of death. At one point, José buys and eats a sausage pizza, thus consuming both pork and leavened bread, to dramatize his lack of interest in following the dietary laws. But the cultural clashes are played for comedy, and it’s clear that José wants to do the right thing, even if he has to be difficult about it. In truth, he’s never really stopped loving Nora, a fact which becomes clearer as he starts to remember their life together as a young couple.

The delayed burial turns out to be a blessing, as it allows more time for out-of-town friends and relatives to arrive. Nora planned for this, as well, leaving a refrigerator stuffed to bursting with food, much of it annotated with very clear directions about how it is to be prepared. Soon, the Catholic maid and the rabbi’s assistant are working together in the kitchen, Ruben arrives with his wife and charming daughters, and the film becomes a celebration of life rather than the mourning of a suicide.

Chenillo also wrote the script, which sometimes runs a little too much like clockwork, but is brought alive by a distinguished cast of actors. First among equals is Luján, a veteran of over 100 Spanish-language movies and television programs, who finds just the right tone to make José’s dilemma both poignant and humorous. | Sarah Boslaugh

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