An oddly luminous, surprisingly reflective, and even occasionally funny tale of post-suicide ripples in a household, Nora’s Will is one of those films that handily rises to its built-in challenges. One of those challenges, no doubt, is selling the thing, getting audiences into a theater when the story involves Nora, who has committed suicide and whom we virtually never see alive (except in flashbacks), and her still-loving ex-husband’s (Fernando Luján) dealings with the swirl of figures and actions in the wake—an extended wake, at that.
Part of the artistic success of this affecting Mexican film, sensitively written and directed by Mariana Chenillo, has to do with insightful pacing and structure, which made its original title, Cinco días sin Nora (Five Days Without Nora), a truer indicator of the film’s careful plotting. To some viewers, it may seem slow at times, but the strength is in the measured balancing act of script, luminous interior cinematography, and a bustling interplay of themes and characters. While much of the film’s “action” takes place in a single location, the apartment of the deceased, the dramatic and comic energies are fully in motion, one of the film’s great artistic feats.
Into the unique story context, Chenillo deftly pours elements of family and religious tensions, particularly surrounding Nora’s Jewish faith, its rites, devotions, and, not incidentally, gastronomic values. In a sense, the film both celebrates Judaism and castigates the rigidity of its laws, including the stigma over suicide and the issue of burial.
Sadness and mourning filter into the story at regular intervals, but we are also kept somewhat at bay from much empathy for Nora, whom we never actually meet, alive in “real time” (a key dramatic strategy). Thus, we are deputized as voyeurs in this drama, learning bits and pieces about a life of pain and also joy. In the final, telling scene, the camera savors the ex-husband’s comforted reading of her last letter to him and pulls away from this one apartment in the naked city to reveal the larger sweep of urbanity and humanity. It is, after all, one small story in the bigger tragicomic picture of human experience, and one beautifully, cinematically told.