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The Independent Critic

Guillermo Toledo, Marian Aguilera, Norma Aleandro
Dominic Harari, Teresa Pelegri
Rated R
85 Mins.
 "Only Human" Review 
As written by the husband and wife team of Dominic Harari and Teresa Pelegri, "Only Human" is a delightfully funny and frequently insightful spin on the familiar storyline of "fiancee' meets the family."

In "Only Human," the couple in question are Rafi (Guillermo Toledo), a Palestinian, and Leni (Marian Aguilera), a Jew. They have arrived to a dinner with her family celebrating their engagement, however, as is always necessary with such a storyline, Leni hasn't quite been honest about Rafi's background.

One of the joys of "Only Human" is that it beautifully blends an innocent, quirky relationship comedy inside a film that makes basic, yet bold statements about Palestinian/Israeli conflicts and the way we, as human beings, find to separate ourselves on the basis of stereotypes that, quite often, aren't even close to true.

Each member of Leni's family seems practically designed to address one area of potential bias and/or racism. However, they do so with a disarming tenderness and tongue-in-cheek humor that makes it feel like you're never being preached to or looked down upon.

As Leni's mother, Norma Aleandro is understated perfection. Aleandro finds layer upon layer in her character...a mother who laughs off the relationship once she finds out that Rafi is Palestinian by saying "there will be peace in Israel before my husband gives me an orgasm." Yet her cynicism is never over-the-top, and Aleandro, a past Oscar nominee, wraps her cynicism with intellect, detachment, humor and a touch of maternal love. It's an utterly perfect performance.

The rest of the family is nearly as perfect as Aleandro. There's a blind, war-hero grandfather prone to grabbing his rifle (Max Berliner), a precocious young girl who pretends to be pregnant (Alba Molinero), a slutty sister (Mario Botto), a trendy younger brother whose current trend is Orthodoxy (Fernando Ramallo) and a father who may or may not be dead or having an affair (Mario Martin). All the characters, with the exception of the rather vaguely developed father, are a unique blend of cynical, funny and loving.

Toledo is marvelous in a role that relies on both an internal sensitivity and external physical comedy. Under the direction of Harari and Pelegri, Toledo's sense of timing is perfect and his chemistry with Aguilera is exciting, playful and, at times, very sweet. Aguilera, too, is charming and sweet and she exudes a wide-eyed innocence that unwraps itself nicely throughout the film.

"Only Human", ultimately, works because it treats its characters with both dignity and delight. The film doesn't take sides, but instead looks at each character in the story and playfully reveals their strengths and weaknesses. Behind strong performances from Aguilera and Toledo, and a tremendous supporting turn from Aleandro, "Only Human" has the unique distinction of being one of the most delightfully funny films to ever address Palestinian/Israeli conflicts.

If both sides could learn to laugh like the characters in "Only Human," well, there might be peace in Israel after all...and, perhaps, an orgasm or two thrown in, as well!

"Only Human" is a Spanish-language film with subtitles, and will be released on DVD on Tuesday, October 17th, 2006.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic