Starring: Starring Mili Avital, Anat Waxman, Baoqui Chen and Alon Aboutboul. Directed by Ayelet Menahemi
102 mins
Rating: Rated PG (mild coarse language)

Noodle, an absolute charmer from Israel, is a comedy-drama full of compassion that draws attention to plight of people whom the state decrees to be beyond the pale and therefore washes its hands of them.

Miri (Mili Avital) is a senior El Al stewardess in her late 30s, twice widowed in military conflicts in the Middle East.  Tired after a long flight she comes home to her Tel Aviv apartment where her sister Gila (Anat Waxman) has set up residence after separating from her husband Izzy (Alon Aboutboul). There are issues between the sisters that date back many years, and Gila does not appreciate Miri’s attempts to patch up her marriage and tell her where she went wrong.

On this particular day, Miri’s life takes a dramatic turn when she agrees to look after a six-year-old Chinese boy while her mother, Miri’s cleaning lady, attends to some business for an hour. But the mother does not return. Hour after hour passes and there is no response from her mobile phone.

As it dawns on Miri (and less appealingly to Gila) that something has happened to the boy’s mother, they have to face the possibility that she has been picked up by the immigration authorities for being an illegal alien. If this is the case, they dare not enlist the aid of the police because that would mean advertising that the boy, too, is illegal. Every way they turn, they are confronted by a maze of red tape.

The child, whom they name Noodle because of his eagerness in consuming Asian takeaway, speaks only Chinese and is afraid and at first uncooperative, so their task in trying to piece together where he is from — and therefore get a clue to the whereabouts of his mother — seems insurmountable. But Miri sticks to it doggedly, helped in the end by bumping into an old friend, Matti (Iftach Klein), who roams the world writing travel books and who speaks Chinese.

Enlisting his aid means they can communicate with the boy, but it causes unexpected problems with Gila who, it transpires, has had an involvement with Matti before.

The characters are very sympathetically played, the Chinese boy is delightful in front of the cameras, and the growing friendship between the Israeli hostess and the boy from Beijing is heart-warming. But sentimentality gives way to quite a suspenseful ending as Miri devises a daring and risky plan to thwart the authorities and reunite mother and son. It will get you close to the edge of your seat.

Noodle, which has screened at overseas film festivals and won the jury prize at Montreal in 2007, is a well-made movie with its heart firmly in the right place. Everyone wins with the exception of poor Izzy, who sadly seems to be left at the starting barrier in the final washup, although he is every bit as decent and deserving as anyone else.

Potential  Out June 18

Mr. Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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