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Having already sat through Tampopo, Babette’s Feast, and Eat Drink Man Woman, art-house-goers might be forgiven for skipping Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi. But writer-director Shemi Zarhin’s 2003 film about a brilliant, withdrawn Israeli teenager who, yes, expresses his love for his family through cooking is a worthy addition to the overstuffed genre of culinary cinema. Sixteen-year-old Shlomi (Oshri Cohen) has been the unofficial head of his family ever since his father was kicked out of the house for cheating. He attends to his slightly senile grandfather, keeps his temperamental mother in check, mediates petty fights between his sister and her husband, and even tolerates his older brother’s sexual tall tales, all while cooking Nigella-luscious meals for the family and hardly speaking a word. Shlomi concentrates so much on his family, in fact, that he’s failing out of school, but a new principal soon notices the underachieving young man and decides to bring him out of his shell. Zarhin, who’s reportedly quite the gourmet himself, definitely has a lot on his plate—not least that whole metaphor of meal-making as filmmaking. But he handles things far more effectively than his introverted protagonist, who is really thrown for a loop when he falls in love with new neighbor Rona (Aya Koren). Shlomi’s sedate camerawork, warm natural lighting, and refreshingly unpretentious supporting cast—which manages to capture the inherent comedy of family bickering without devolving into parody—all help to elevate the movie above both the typical teenage melodrama and the typical foodie film. The narrative rests squarely on Shlomi’s shoulders, and when he finally realizes that he must decide between living his life for his family or himself, Cohen’s wide-eyed bewilderment gives the much-put-upon makeshift patriarch the perfect balance of vulnerability and strength. Zarhin has taken some all-too-common ingredients, added believable narrative and naturalistic performances, and substituted genuine sweetness for saccharine platitudes. The result is a surprisingly tempting cinematic dish.

—Jason Powell