I’m a Mitzvah
The bittersweet adventure of a young American man who spends one last night with his deceased friend while stranded in rural Mexico.
15 – 20 | 2014 | Black Comedy | Grief | Live-Action | USA
“Mitzvah” is an Hebrew term that means “commandment.” In its secondary meaning, however, it also refers to all those charitable good deeds that a person can make in life, various acts of human kindness. A Mitzvah is exactly what David,the protagonist of this short, will have to perform, after finding himself in a remote Mexican town to recover the body of his best friend, who died during a pretty wild vacation.
In the beginning, the short feels like a bitter comedy of errors. As soon as hi arrives on the scene, our protagonist finds a clueless embalmer who is performing the procedures on his friend, and he’ll try in every way to stop it (the Jewish religion, in fact, does not allow any operation on the dead’s bodies). David, however, does not speak Spanish, and no one around him speak English, and the interactions between the two will be very awkward. Communication issues will indeed be the leitmotif of this adventure. Many things will go awry: his flight to the United States will be cancelled, lugging the huge box that contains the body will be very hard, and a continuing series of anxiety-inducing phone calls from his friend’s mother will leave him restless.
However, the focal point of the short are not the – hilarious – misadventures, but our relationship with death. David has just lost his best friend, but can’t feel anything. He’s in a state of confusion, he doesn’t understand his own indifference towards this loss. He’ll try everything: from googling the stages of mourning to reciting Jewish prayers for the dead, all in the company of a bottle of tequila and his dead friend.
This total lack of emotion leads him to venture into the town, where he will participate in a local festivity, drink a lot and end up familiarizing the best he can with a local woman – with his friend always by his side. This night of celebrations in the company of his usual adventure’s sidekick is perhaps the farewell he needed, and also the most adequate – we find out, through a great script move that shows us the photos taken by the deceased during the holiday, that David’s friend was definitely a party animal. In the end, it will be one of these photos, in a tragicomic moment, to force our protagonist to fully realize that his friend is gone. And so this sort of “Weekend at Bernie’s in Mexico” turns into something more meaningful, sentimental, human. We are closer to the Coen brothers of A Serious Man or indie films such as Nebraska than to grotesque comedies. It’s not a mere sequence of awkward situations, but a genuine representation of friendship, loyalty and even the joy of life.
Anyway, the fact that David’s sadness and mourning are triggered by a photo of a drunk next to a fully naked stranger, perfectly captures the overall tone of “I’m a Mitzvah“.
The short stars Ben Schwartz, a comedian mostly known for TV series such as Parks and Recreation and House of Lies. A perfect casting, given the familiarity of the actor with improv – in fact most of the scenes are improvised, as director Ben Berman preferred to let communication difficulties stemmed from the language barrier take their course, and it worked. Berman, like Schwartz, has a long career in comedy, having frequently collaborated with the likes of Zach Galifianakis and Tim & Eric, and has directed several episodes of comedy shows like Comedy Bang Bang.
The music was composed by Stephin Merritt, lead singer of the Magnetic Fields, whose songs are also featured in some scenes. The short was funded through Kickstarter and premiered in competition at Sundance 2014.comments powered by Disqus