In what might be a metaphor, an allegory, perhaps a parable, when the self-proclaimed Palestinians make a movie by themselves, it’s usually a horror show about how Jews are monsters and it’s therefore a good thing to kill them while when they work with Jews, there’s a lot more empathy toward all viewpoints. Whatever it is, it’s probably not a coincidence.
You don’t necessarily know what’s what going IN to one of these movies, however.
The director and co-writer Eran Colirin also wrote and directed The Band’s Visit, a relatively early (for me, 2007) Israeli film experience (after 2004’s Ushpizin which remains one of my favorite movies ever), so I needn’t have worried. This is actually much like that film in terms of pacing and tone.
I would describe both films as “interesting”, actually. Kevin Smith once said that in Hollywood when someone says your movie is “interesting” that means they didn’t like it. Well, fine, we needn’t be constrained by Hollywood “manners”: When I say something is “interesting” I mean it, and it’s a good thing.
Sami is an Arab Palestinian living and working in Tel Aviv who comes back for his little brother’s wedding. We get the usual tropes of “successful city dweller returning to his rustic roots”: The village people hold Sami in a kind of awe and he is very concerned about keeping his distance from these rubes, both embarrassed by their behaviors and his connection to them and ashamed of his shame. His father is building him a house using day laborers, as if he were going to return home. He has a mistress in Israel, a Jewess no less, and has no interest in his hot but bitchy (with good reason) wife.
He flees the ceremony with his wife and kid only to find himself trapped. Apparently due to—well, we never really know if it’s pending nuclear war between America and Iran, a political shakedown, or an attempt to find terrorists amongst the day laborers—and when he retreats back to his brother’s pad, he discovers both his brother and his brother’s new bride eager to take his kid and—as becomes increasingly apparent—keep as far away from his hot new (constantly texting) wife as possible. Turns out he also has (or wants?) a Jewish mistress, and a job amongst the Chosen People in Israeli, and to get out of the old country.
What the hell’s going on here? Well, again, if it were a purely Arab film, this would be part of a Jewish scheme to…I dunno…steal the precious bodily essences of strong Arab men.
What we get instead is an interesting mixture of a lot of life’s complexities. The town thugs are busy rousting people and cooperating with the (seemingly) unreasonable demands of the Israeli authorities. The vital security issue being address apparently only requires a single guard on the border. Sami and his wife Mira are having trouble, sure, but Sami’s parents weren’t a picture of good marital health either.
They can’t even connect with the day laborers, because the day laborers look at them and think “These guys have it easy.”
Meanwhile Sami’s pal, whom he’s been avoiding since he moved to the city, is scraping by trying to impress his (slutty) ex- and Sami, but has just got himself in hock with the local thugs.
It’s a mess, as life often is, and one can relate to it in a purely apolitical fashion. The Palestinians here don’t want anything other than basic freedom and decency. They’re so cowed they can barely gin themselves up for a protest at the border.
It’s always dangerous to try to apply movie narratives to the real world but I tend to believe there is some truth in this. While not neglecting the extremely virulent anti-Semitism that exists (and receives generous funding) in those territories, I think there must be those who would be willing to put their love of their children over their hatred of Jews, as Golda Meier put it.
Pray for peace.