Jewish humour meets Spanish screwball comedy in Only Human, an observational comedy set amongst a Madrid Jewish family. Leni (Marian Aguilera) arrives at the family home with her new boyfriend, Rafi, a Palestinian university professor who at first pretends to be Jewish – although the couple decides to come clean about his real identity soon after they’ve arrived at the family home. At first, Gloria, the mother (played by the veteran actress Norma Aleandro) gets upset but she is more worries about her husband, who seems to be spending too much time in the office.
This is a working class, dysfunctional Jewish household, and it includes another daughter, the belly-dancing single-mother Tania (Maria Botto), whom Gloria accuses of being promiscuous, and a teenage son, David (Fernando Ramallo), who’s undergoing a Jewish fundamentalist phase – which is better than being on drugs, according to Gloria. Financial problems, sexual frustration and disrupted communication all form part of the soap opera that is family life.
Things take a complicated turn when Rafi is asked to defrost a bag of soup, which he drops from the window by the sink, and realises that it has hit a passerby below the window. The accident triggers a series of cold-sweat situations and brings up the question: could the man downstairs be the family patriarch? It sounds a bit absurd, and it is. The second part of the film sees the family searching for a solution for the parental crisis, Leni and Rafi getting to know each other better and Tania opening her tart’s heart for real.
Only Human makes interesting use of an American genre adapted to the Spanish temperament. It nods to Almodovar at points, but without resorting to the intense and obsessive energy that gives his films their intensity. This is much more light-hearted fare. The major flaw in Only Human is that the best jokes are served right at the beginning of the film, before the soup bag accident, and then the humour becomes more contrived and repetitious. But it doesn’t really compromise the film as a whole. Pelegri and Harari manage to sustain it through the unevenness of the narrative because behind the quick-fire, snappy façade there is a warm, pulsing heart.