‘Maktub’ Plays Bombing, Mobsters for Comedy

Guy Amir and Hanan Savyon in Maktub | Photos via jerusalemfilmfund.com

A movie that has “mobsters” and “bomb attack” in its description probably wouldn’t strike you as a comedy.

But Maktub, a 2017 Israeli film that recently debuted on Netflix, can definitely be classified as such.

The film was written by and stars Guy Amir and Hanan Savyon, well-known actors and frequent collaborators in Israel, as Steve and Chuma, two low-level mobsters who miraculously (or perhaps fatefully, as the title means “fate” in Arabic) become the sole survivors of a bombing at a Jerusalem restaurant. That inspires them to give up their criminal ways and start anew.

After Chuma encourages his friend that they should go give thanks at the Western Wall, Steve accidentally ends up taking a note from the wall, giving them the idea to start answering the wishes written on the papers stuffed in the holy walls.

They can do this, as they ran off with a briefcase with $400,000 worth of shekels that was supposed to be given to their mobster boss, Kaslassy (Itzik Cohen).

That will catch up with them later, of course, but in the meantime, the two find they get a rush from helping others — who knew? — and use some of the cash to help a man who works long hours and fears his wife thinks he doesn’t love her anymore get a raise (this includes dangling his boss out of a window, his toupee flowing in the breeze); throw a lavish Bar Mitzvah for the son of a single mother Russian emigre; and help a forlorn 40-year-old woman get pregnant.

In doing so, there are outrageous antics and plotting galore — some of which includes the two taking turns dressing in drag so they can retrieve notes from the women’s section (they don’t want to be sexist and only grant men’s wishes, after all) and while their crossdressing could easily come across as insensitive, it effectively translates as funny.

There are subplots, as well, some which have more serious undertones, particularly for Steve, who plans on using the cash to make a new life in America and seeking a fortune selling fish kebabs.

Steve, however, has been secretly battling the lingering aftereffects of a father running off on his family, which has affected his own journey with fatherhood.

A young boy, a soccer player, writes a note to be placed in the Kotel ahead of a big game that he wishes his absent father would come back to watch the match. Through interlaced scenes of Chuma taking care of the boy with his mother, Lizo, and bringing packages and envelopes he says are from Steve, you sort of get what’s going on.

Without any spoilers, this plotline — however deeper than the rest of the film — wraps up with a rather surprising and heartwarming ending.

As it is sort of a mob movie, there are also some particularly violent scenes, particularly once Kaslassy catches up to our two fairy godfathers. One involves a baseball bat and a lot of bloody noses.

But there are also plenty of truly laugh-out-loud moments, many of which are thanks to the dialogue as well as visual gags. For instance, Steve and Chuma had worked for Kaslassy collecting protection money from various restaurants. They had a one-eyed Chechen man serve as their lookout at the eatery whose bombing they survived — their Chechen lookout, however, did not (which also leads to a funny scene in which Kaslassy and his right-hand man travel to Chechnya to look for him) and later, a group of kids are playing with a marble that turns out to be a certain one-eyed man’s eyeball.

What works the best in this film is the chemistry and ease Amir and Savyon share. This is probably not surprising given their long working history — the pair have written over 280 episodes for seven different series that have been viewed more than 80 million times, per JTA — and how frequently they act together, but it truly shines through in this film. As it is really a buddy comedy, the buddies really need to work together and be believable — and these two definitely make it work.

And the friendship itself is believable. Their characters are different from one another; Steve is always wearing a suit and believes in the finer things in life, while Chuma is most comfortable in jeans and is a bit more of a romantic. But together they have each other’s backs and support each other, even when Steve buys a plane ticket and Chuma decides he isn’t going with his friend.  

The film runs close to two hours in Hebrew with English subtitles, but it doesn’t feel nearly that long because the story is engrossing, at times endearing and mostly just truly funny. 

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