Is Nora a martyr or a peacemaker? The 60-something divorcee goes to great lengths to prepare a Passover meal for family and friends, but when the invited guests arrive, they find Nora has quietly committed suicide in the bedroom. The entire Passover meal; the matzah balls, the gefilte fish, etc., is neatly packed in plastic containers in the refrigerator ready to be cooked per her instructions left in handwritten notes on each container. Just help yourself, Nora says from beyond.
Nora's Will, or as translated in the opening credits, Five Days Without Nora, is a Mexican film directed by Mariana Chenillo (the first woman to receive the Mexican equivalent of Oscar for directing), that explores the social issues of death, particularly suicide, without sinking to passionate low-brow levels. No corpse humor or warm hearted enlightenment here. Instead, a nervous amusement prevails as Nora's body is kept cold with ice packs on the bedroom floor throughout the film.
Each of the guests is touched in a profound way by Nora's death, but only her ex-husband Jose (Fernando Lujan), who lives across the street and discovers the body, sees her demise as a vicious manipulative ploy; an attempt to control those around her even in death. So annoyed is he by his ex-wife's decision to kill herself, he switches the cooking instructions of each container in the refrigerator before the guests arrive.
the movie would have us believe that Nora, with a lifelong passion for suicide, is a wise old bird who understood her death would unite long severed binds and challenge the living to confront their own lives. While Nora's sudden departure doesn't tidily resolve all issues, and miraculously cures others, it does bring her family and friends closer together and forces her ex to make funeral arrangements while confronting his misunderstood past.
Even Judaism itself is called upon to answer to Nora who is without a resting place and wears a scarlet letter even in death as her suicide marks her unwelcome in a Jewish cemetery. Hence the ice packs surrounding her body and the scramble to find a place to bury her.
The conflict of what to do with dead Nora allows the film a funny barrage of religious references that finds one character saying to another after speaking with a priest on the telephone, "the Christians will take anybody".
Nora's Will is as gently imposing as attending a funeral with an impatient appetite for the post funeral brunch. A giddy nervousness prevails while a hunger for resolution keeps the film rolling at a steady pace. While the guests teeter about life and death issues and Jose cools his anger at his ex-wife, (she loved him, he learns), there is still this business of a dead body in the bedroom during Passover.
The movie is a modest amusement that seriously champions life and death issues. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Article first published as Movie Review: Nora's Will on Blogcritics.