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Salsa Tel Aviv – a screwball comedy from Israel

Tags: Arts
Angel Bonani, left, and Angelica Vale in Salsa Tel Aviv.

The screwball comedy, a staple of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood, has finally reached the shores of Israel.

Yohanan Weller’s Salsa Tel Aviv is scheduled to be screened by the Toronto Jewish Film Festival’s Chai Tea & A Movie series on Sunday, Dec. 11, at the Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Cinemas at 5 p.m. after tea is served at 4 p.m.

Though this feature film is frothy and light-hearted, it delves into a serious issue: the plight of illegal foreign workers in Israel.

The foreigners in this case are Mexicans. Vicky (Angelica Vale) is a salsa dancer and instructor, as is her boyfriend, Beto (whose real name is not listed in the credits).

Vicky arrives in Israel dressed as a nun, believing she may be denied entry if she admits to being a dancer, a profession that seems synonymous with prostitution in some circles. On the plane, she meets Yoni (Angel Bonani), a shy, reserved Israeli professor who helps her clear customs at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Unbeknownst to Yoni, Vicky is not only a dancer, but the mother of a five-year-old boy she left behind in Mexico. Soon enough, Vicky’s dual identities become the source of confusion, hilarity, disappointment and annoyance.

The film’s title is a reference to a jazzy Tel Aviv club where clients dance the night away or learn the basics of salsa from Beto, Vicky’s philandering boyfriend and father of her son.

Through circumstances beyond her control, Vicky is locked out of her flat and finds herself begging for accommodation at Yoni’s apartment.

The slapstick humour kicks in as Yoni’s rich, temperamental and overbearing fiancé, Dafna (Hilla Vidor), pays an unexpected visit and Yoni scrambles to hide Vicky, wearing only a white towel, from Dafna’s prying eyes.

Yoni is smitten by Vicky, Dafna’s polar opposite in terms of personality. But the lies that Vicky habitually spouts threaten her continued residence in Tel Aviv, as well as her budding love affair with Yoni.

Not surprisingly, Salsa Tel Aviv, which unfolds in Spanish and Hebrew, features something of a stereotypical Jewish mother whose equanimity is battered by the suspicion that Yoni may not marry Dafna, a prize catch.

Infused with a bubbly Latin spirit, the film moves along at a steady clip and elicits plausible performances from its multinational cast.

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