Hilarious Human Relations

Friday, February 16, 2007

"Only Human," a Spanish farce, has absolutely no business being as laugh-out-loud funny as it often is.

Seriously, what were the chances of a family comedy -- built around a Jewish woman bringing her Palestinian beau home for the first time -- being anything but absurd, goofy and very strained? When do we start giggling at jokes about intifadas and stone-throwing?

The crazy thing is, we do. We laugh at a lot of other things, too -- and that's a credit to almost every element at play. Writer-directors Dominic Harari and Teresa Pelegri have penned an amusing script and, as directors, inject a delicate human texture into the story's intermixing of capricious zaniness, frank sensuality and Mideast politics.

Even as this movie -- which gathers comic momentum after a frozen chunk of soup plummets from an upstairs window with disastrous consequences -- becomes almost helium-induced, our interest never flags. That's because the characters come across as serious people who happen to be caught in absurd circumstances -- as opposed to over-the-top goofballs (see Roberto Benigni for further details) falling and tumbling over themselves to tickle the audience.

This semi-serious approach would not work without assured performers, and "Only Human" is blessed with them. The standout is Argentine actress Norma Aleandro -- as the martyr of a matriarch who does her best to contend with one crazy Madrid household, which includes one promiscuous, belly-dancing daughter, a blind gun-toting father and an over-religious son who is nursing a wounded duck in the bidet. And now -- now! -- her other daughter (Marian Aguilera) comes home with a Palestinian (Guillermo Toledo)! It's no wonder she's prompted to suddenly start speaking her mind with rejoinders such as "There'll be peace in Israel before your father gives me an orgasm."

-- Desson Thomson

Only Human Unrated, 89 minutes Contains nudity, sexual scenes, violence and profanity. In Spanish with subtitles. At the Avalon.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company