Venice Film Fest 2022 Review: An Engagement Leads to Estrangement in “Valeria is Getting Married”

There are separate conversations happening at the dinner table in “Valeria is Getting Married,” as sisters Valeria (Dasha Tvoronovich) and Christina (Lena Fraifeld) can speak to each other in their native Ukranian and Christina’s husband Michael (Yaakov Zada Daniel) can speak to Eitan (Avraham Shalom Levi), the man Valeria is set to marry, in their native Hebrew. English is used when all four want to talk to one another, but rarely is when speaking a second language would only add to the discomfort around the situation at hand, with Eitan meeting his fiancée for the first time after Christina arranged the engagement, looking to give her younger sis the same level of safety and security she’s become accustomed to living in Israel.

A lesser dramatist would make Eitan the villain in this scenario, but no one quite emerges as such a figure in the savvy second directorial effort from Michal Vinik, which envisions new borders being erected after international ones are overcome. Taking place largely within the confines of a modest, modern apartment where Michael and Christina have established a comfortable life, “Valeria is Getting Married” sees excitement over a reunion between the sisters quickly give way to dissension between them as Valeria smiles politely as she’s shuttled around town to prepare herself for meeting Eitan and smiles politely upon meeting him, yet increasingly appears to be an ill fit not only for the lonely heart in front of her, but the entire set-up. Although the walls would feel like they’re closing in for Valeria, Vinik and cinematographer Guy Raz shrewdly allow the camera to stray from the action, showing the private moments of desperation for all involved when it looks like a match hasn’t been made.

Within the quartet, Vinik is able to expose the perils of an emotional bond such as marriage being tied to citizenship when Christina may appear happier in Israel, but only feels at home when Valeria is around and Michael and Eitan, who would appear to make every accommodation to their foreign partners, inevitably lean into the upper hand they’ve been given by their nationality and gender, consciously or not. While little is made known about what Valeria left behind, Christina’s excitement around her arrival tells you all you need to know about what she did, even when it was clearly a reasoned decision and although Vinik isn’t the first to examine the emotional reality that sets in after all the practicalities of an arranged marriage seem to be settled, the feeling of genuine surprise amongst the characters as the meaning of their actions sneaks up on them extends to the audience, slyly side-stepping most of the tropes associated with such stories. “Valeria is Getting Married” may not leave a lot of room for any of them to breathe, but it takes a refreshing path towards an ultimately startling conclusion, the kind where the world at large may remain unchanged but that’s part of the tragedy as everyone involved has had theirs shattered.

“Valeria is Getting Married” will screen again in the Orrizonti Extra section of the Venice Film Festival on September 3rd at 9 am at the Sala Giardino. It will next play at the Toronto Film Festival on September 14th at 3:35 pm and September 17th at 4:15 pm at the Scotiabank.