AS AN ISRAELI coming-of-age film, "Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi" falls somewhere between "Cinderella" and "Malcolm in the Middle," and that's pretty much the challenge that faces actor Oshri Cohen, who very nearly pulls it off.
Sixteen-year-old Shlomi (Cohen) is considered sweet but slightly retarded. Urged on by his blowhard older brother, Doron, the clueless Shlomi asks his girlfriend to "upgrade" their relationship and is sent packing. He is flunking out of school (the condescending Doron offers to do his homework). Meanwhile, Shlomi does the family's cooking, bathes his wheelchair-bound grandfather, makes sure that Doron takes his medicine on time and even changes his mother's linen.
But (clang!) he does love poetry, and it becomes apparent that Doron's earlier illness, which forced their mother to donate one of her kidneys, has also removed her "eye" for her other son. Shlomi may be dyslexic, but he's a math and music savant -- "Shlomi" is the nickname for Shlomo, or Solomon, as in "wise" -- and he could have gone to study at a school for the gifted if his parents had been paying attention.
Instead, Shlomi, like his heir-splitting namesake, has made himself the mediator of the exploding clan. (Shlomi's grandfather calls him "Monsieur Shalom," the peacemaker, though not necessarily approvingly.) It's no wonder he's considered a dummy: Everyone talks for him. When his mother and older brother "aren't speaking," they dictate to Shlomi. He is the literal go-between when his sister fights with his brother-in-law and storms back home and when his hypochondriac father, who has been banished for infidelity, tries to see his mother, who puts personal ads in the paper to punish him.
Symbolism lies heavy on the script, whipped out in five days by director Shemi Zarhin. Shlomi is the sleeping beauty (his principal even refers to his brain having gone to sleep) waiting for his kiss; he feeds his love-starved family through their stomachs. The love that liberates him is proffered by Rona, the beautiful gardener next door, which is about as literal as an "earth mother" can get; and the principal, who sees the real Shlomi, is so much the surrogate father that he takes Shlomi's mother out on a date. Shlomi even tells the principal (Yigal Naor, who resembles an un-ironic Jeffrey Tambor) that the only character in the Bible he doesn't like is David, who was, of course, Solomon's real father.
Shlomi's grandfather, who first appears to be half-senile and crippled (and stares into the heavens) is the one who takes constructive action, de-structive action, actually, to set his grandson free.
Cohen has the inevitable "liquid eyes," but he also conveys, through his physical restraint, a kind of immense inner stillness, the spirit asleep within.
It all ends happily. Love, and baking, triumph. "Bonjour, monsieur" is a private joke between Shlomi and his grandfather, but it's also what you say when you first wake up. It means "hello, mister," now that Shlomi is, as they say, a man. Whew! That's a load off.
BONJOUR MONSIEUR SHLOMI (Unrated, 94 minutes) -- Contains partial nudity and some suggestive language. In Hebrew with English subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.