Venice 2022 review: Valeria Is Getting Married (Michal Vinik)

Valeria Is Getting Married is a simple and intimate view of the human condition, building a story from the shattered fragments of a global crisis.”

In recent years, we have seen an extraordinarily promising voice emerge amongst young Israeli filmmakers, with Michal Vinik representing a new movement of female auteurs working in the Hebrew language, but telling almost universal stories, as both a writer and director. Her most recent film is Valeria Is Getting Married, a fascinating character study about the combination of two cultures, set to an unsettling social backdrop. Telling the story of two sisters who fled Ukraine to find sanctuary within suburban Israel through online marriages, the film is a deeply poignant meditation on the nature of love, contrasted with discussions of identity and individuality, all of which are frequent themes in the director’s work. It is a small film at a paltry 76 minutes and is reminiscent of a stage play insofar as it features very few characters and is set primarily in a single location. However, it more than compensates for this through the pure ambition that went into the story, which looks at a range of compelling conversations, each one carefully curated by a director whose fervent interest in this subject matter exudes off every frame, showing that Valeria Is Getting Married is far more complex than we’d expect based on a cursory glance.

In a world where every aspect of life is being subjected to the ebb and flow of globalization, it’s becoming increasingly common to find stories that focus on the collision between cultures. In her sophomore feature-length film, Vinik centres the story on the arranged marriage between a young Ukrainian woman and a working-class Israeli man, who see matrimony as the solution to problems that plague them, whether curbing the loneliness of a bachelor life or escaping a hostile country and seeking safety in another part of the world. Through this story, Vinik is asking a range of poignant questions – the most basic being whether it is possible for people from very different backgrounds to overcome geographical boundaries and find common ground (enough to devote their lives to each other), or if such a marriage is simply a transaction, a means to escape (literally or metaphorically). In this regard, Valeria Is Getting Married offers a different perspective on romance, looking at it as something that is not always natural, but also not necessarily capable of being constructed without the necessary spark. It’s a story of manufacturing a meaningful human connection, and the fallout that can occur when it is not successful, especially when it becomes clear that some relationships serve a purpose far removed from the traditional concept of love, a haunting reality that this film aims to convey.

Vinik is able to draw our attention to deeper themes, without distracting from the narrative itself, since this is as much a story of the prominence of arranged marriages between cultures as it is a harrowing indictment of the state of the present world. Over the course of the day in which this film takes place, the director crafts a narrative that uses the discussions between the core group of characters to allude to broader social and cultural issues. While many films might have leaned into comparing and contrasting the two cultures that exist at the heart of the film (almost symmetrically so, with the focus being on two Ukrainian women and their Israeli husbands), Valeria Is Getting Married is more focused on the intimate details of these genuinely moving but haunting conversations, each with an undercurrent of complexity. Much credit must be given to the cast, in particular Dasha Tvoronovich and Avraham Shalom Levi, who command the screen, playing these challenging characters who are diametrically opposed despite supposedly being a perfect match. They set the tone for the entire film, and help direct it towards the distressing and suspenseful climax, in which the reality faced by many individuals is finally revealed in a conclusion that is as melancholy as it is liberating.

Valeria Is Getting Married occupies a valuable space within the canon of contemporary refugee stories, since it focuses on the journey of a young woman from her war-torn country to a place that may not be as idyllic as she would hope, but offers her some sense of security. This is the foundation for a film that is brimming with meaning, compressing a range of compelling ideas into a relatively short span of time, which results in a small but powerful drama that is defined by its nuanced view of some prominent social issues. Vinik is a major talent, and both her skills as a writer and visual panache behind the camera converge in this poignant fable about survival by any means necessary, as well as the realization that some sanctuaries are not as ideal as they would appear, especially when there are additional caveats that could be equally oppressing, just on a much smaller scale. Valeria Is Getting Married is a simple and intimate view of the human condition, building a story from the shattered fragments of a global crisis and condensing major themes into a few small interactions that are far deeper than we would initially anticipate. Driven by impeccable writing, heartbreaking performances and the kind of candour that can only come from genuine compassion, the film is a masterful example of social realism that is both descriptive of present conditions, and dedicated to provoking earnest and insightful conversation amongst its audience.