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Israeli, Chinese cultures collide in film’s Flushing debut

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Two worlds converged last week at Flushing Town Hall for the New York City debut of “Noodle,” a 2007 independent film in which Israeli and Chinese culture make for an unlikely combination and set the scene for yet another in a long line of films about spunky children and the troubled adult charged with their caretaking.

The story of “Noodle,” which took home a Best Supporting Actress award at the 2007 Israeli Film Academy Awards, is one that has been covered numerous times, both comedically and dramatically, in films from “Kolya” (1996) to Adam Sandler’s “Big Daddy.”

In fact, one of this season’s top foreign films — director Laurent Cantet’s “The Class,” which opened in Manhattan Dec. 19 — takes one of filmdom’s most generic story lines — the middle−class white teacher in a multiracial classroom — as its narrative structure.

But much like Cantet’s film, which is more about the French class system than inspirational teacher−student stories, Israeli director Ayelet Menahemi’s “Noodle” separates itself from its time−honored genre through its nuances. The film has emotional impact without resorting to treacle.

In the film, El Al flight attendant Miri (Mili Avital) is unfortunate enough to have twice married Israeli soldiers who were killed. Her relationship with her sister Gila (Israeli Academy Award winner Anat Waxman) is, at best, dicey and her semi−flirtatious relationship with Gila’s husband, Izzy (Alon Abutbul), is, at best, ill−advised.

Miri comes home from work one day to find her Chinese cleaning lady in a rush to leave, pleading with her to watch over her young son (BaoQi Chen) for an hour. She reluctantly agrees and, several hours later, begins to worry when the mother does not return to claim the boy.

Miri and Gila launch an investigation, during which they find that the boy’s mother was arrested and deported. The sisters hatch a plan to sneak Noodle, as they nickname the boy after he displays a penchant for gobbling down the titular food, back into Beijing to his mother. Along the way, of course, they decide they like the kid.

So did the cheering audience at Flushing Town Hall Dec. 22, when Councilman John Liu (D−Flushing) introduced it and the city’s Jewish and Chinese community relations councils presented the film to a crowd of more than 75 neighborhood residents. The screening was followed, appropriately enough, by a reception at which attendees chomped down on kosher noodles.

“This is a film about basic human emotions,” Liu said. “It takes place in Israel, but it could have taken place in Queens.”

The film, which previously played nationally at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Santa Barbara Film Festival, takes a less−is−more approach to its storytelling and filmmaking, relying on subtlety rather than melodrama to tell its simple story. In other words, there are no scenes of people running through the rain in slow motion. The film’s low−budget feel lends a certain charm.

“Noodle” was released theatrically in Israel during summer 2007 and has played in film festivals around the world this year. There is currently no theatrical release date scheduled for the United States.

Liu said there was a private screening in mid−December with city community leaders and Asaf Shariv, the Israeli consul general. The councilman said the film, which is in both Hebrew and Mandarin, was a perfect film for Queens due to its tale of inter−community relations.

“It’s a story about someone who gets lost in another culture, how they find their way through that culture and how the cultures come together,” said Michael Nussbaum, board member of the Northeast Queens Jewish Community Council.

“Noodle” was also nominated for best film at the Israeli Academy Awards and won a special grand jury prize at the Montreal World Film Festival.

Read film reviews by Nathan Duke at www.criticalconditions.net.

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