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Making the Minyan

September 4, 2016

Discussed in this essay: The Tenth Man, a film by Daniel Burman

by Tony Wohlfarth

A019_C005_0101PKIN THE OPENING SCENE, Ariel (played by Alan Sabbagh) talks on his cell phone, getting last minute instructions prior to catching his flight from JFK to Buenos Aries. The voice on the other end of the line is his father Usher, asking him to bring him running shoes. Turns out the shoes are a metaphor and the voice is the only glimpse we see of Usher, who singlehandedly runs a bustling charitable foundation in Once, the 11th district of the Argentinian capital. Usher seemingly knows everybody and says no to no one -- which explains why he has no time to see his son in person. Instead, he calls him again and again on his cell phone with requests, which Ariel carries out in comedic fashion. Usher’s foundation is the very definition of tsedoke –- the Jewish act of giving to those in need, and Ariel’s visit becomes a mere extension of its work. The film is funny in its portrayal of a father-son relationship.

The film’s title is also a metaphor for Usher’s other essential role –- coming at a moment’s notice to make a minyan for Jewish funerals. The Spanish title, “El rey del Once” or “The King of Once,” does not, in fact, convey this metaphor. Asked about this difference during the world premiere in Berlin, Burman explained that the Spanish title does not translate well into English.

Interviewed following the Tribeca Film Festival premiere in April, Burman said the script was written with Sabbagh in mind. Alan Sabbagh is one of Argentina’s leading comedians, and his onscreen presence is brilliant and hilarious as he races around Buenos Aries carrying out Usher’s wishes. Sabbagh won a jury award for best acting performance at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

The Tenth Man is Burman’s eleventh film, and perhaps his best. The running time is 1 hour & 22 minutes.

Tony Wohlfarth is a freelance film writer & critic based in Canada. He screened The Tenth Man at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, where he interviewed Daniel Burman.