Posts Tagged ‘Ali Suliman’

Director: Eran Riklis

Writer: Sayed Kashua

Country: Israel

Runtime: 105 mins

This review reveals significant plot developments

Prior to the showing of Dancing Arabs at the London Film Festival, actor Laëtitia Eido conveyed a message from the director (Eran Riklis) to the effect that, whilst this film portrays some complex issues there is nonetheless a message of optimism within it. I have to say that, much though I thought this was a very good film, I struggled to see that it had anything positive to say about its main theme, the struggle for a peaceful existence among the Arabs and Israelis. It is interesting to note that Eran Riklis is an Israeli who lives in Tel Aviv, whereas writer Sayed Kashua – an Israeli Arab – recently left Israel for Chicago, writing in Haaretz that “the lie I’d told my children about a future in which Arabs and Jews share the country equally was over. I wanted to say to my wife that this is really the end, it’s finished. That I’d lost my small war, that everything people had told me since I was a teenager was coming true before my eyes”.

Dancing Arabs is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Kashua, although there have been some substantial modifications for the screenplay. Like Kashua, the film’s protagonist, Eyad (Razi Gabareen), grows up in Tira, a mainly Arab city in Israel’s Triangle region, which is a group of Israeli Arab villages near to the Green Line. His father is Salah, played by Ali Suliman, who also played the key figure in Ziad Doueri’s excellent film about Arab-Israeli relations, The Attack (reviewed here on 27th February this year). Salah is a political activist who has spent a year in an Israeli prison without ever being charged. Eyad is highly intelligent and as he grows older Salah decides to send him to a prestigious Israeli boarding school in Jerusalem, telling Eyed that he wants him to be better than his Israeli classmates.

At his new school, Eyad (played as a teenager by Tawfeek Barhom) experiences some initial teasing from his classmates, but things settle down, especially after Eyad is befriended by Naomi (Daniel Kitsis), with whom he falls in love. Nonetheless, for a long time they keep their affair a secret until, one day, Eyad makes a passionate speech in class about Arab stereotyping in one of the books they are discussing. At this point, Naomi leans over and kisses him, to the approving roars of their classmates. However, out on the streets Eyad is still bullied by other boys and hassled by soldiers. When he tries to get a job as a waiter he finds that the only Arabs in the restaurant are working in the kitchen, away from public view. One of the kitchen staff tells him that the only way to become a waiter is to die and then ask Allah if you can come back as a Jew.

Eyad’s best male friend is Yonatan (Jonathan), who has muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair. Tonatan (an excellent performance by Michael Moshonov) teases Eyad with stereotypes about Arabs, but clearly doesn’t mean it – with only an early death to look forward to Yonatan presumably is above classifying people according to their ethnicity or religious background. Whereas Naomi feels unable to tell her parents about her relationship with Eyad (her mother says she would rather her daughter be a lesbian than date an Arab), Yonatan’s mother Edna (beautifully played by Yaël Abecassis) is grateful for the support that Eyad gives to her son.

Despite the subject matter, early in the film there are many comic moments, some genuinely laugh-out loud funny. But as the story develops things gradually become more serious and quite dark. Realising that Yonatan’s passport photograph bears a resemblance to himself, Eyad uses it to open a bank account without encountering any questions from officialdom. Edna discovers what he is doing, but doesn’t mind. Bit by bit, Eyad assumes Yonatan’s identity, a transformation that is completed when Yonatan dies. Yonatan is buried as Eyad, in a Muslim funeral that is attended by both Eyad and Edna.

However, Eyad does not just lose his best friend. Naomi announces that she has signed up to join the Intelligence Corps. She is required to declare whether she has any professional or personal relationships with Arabs. Her silence when Eyad asks her how she answered communicates only that this is the end of their relationship. With his own identity submerged in order to fit into Israeli society, but with no close friends left, Eyad is lost. In the final scene we see him driving down the road, distraught, closing his eyes and going faster. Just as with every failure to achieve lasting peace in the region, we are left to guess what might happen next.

Rating: 9/10

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First released in 2012, The Attack is a story that addresses the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, yet has been banned in most Arab countries because it was partly filmed in Israel. This is a great shame because it is a splendid film. I caught up with it this week at the BFI in London.

The film tells the story of Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman), an eminent Palestinian surgeon who works with Jewish colleagues at a hospital in Tel Aviv. Just prior to receiving a major award, Amin’s wife Siham (Reymond Amsalem), who is visiting family, rings his mobile phone, but he tells her he cannot speak at that moment and will have to call later. Upon receiving his award, Amin gives a speech that acknowledges the difficulties of being a Palestinian in Israel, but expresses optimism for the future.

The following day, whilst Amin is lunching with colleagues on the hospital terrace, the city is rocked by an explosion and shortly afterwards Amin is trying to save the lives of bloodied victims. We discover that a bomb exploded in a restaurant and most of the dead were children who had been enjoying a party. Later that night Amin is woken from sleep by a phone call and asked to come back to the hospital. Upon arrival he is asked to identify his wife’s body. She was killed in the explosion. The identification scene is truly distressing, because only the top half of Siham’s body is on the mortuary table.

Shortly afterwards Amin is arrested by the police. They tell him that his wife’s injuries are such that she must have been the bomber. Based on this they assume that he, too, must have been involved. Amin’s interrogation is brutal, involving sleep deprivation, being forced to listen to loud music in his cell, and bullying questioning from tough shaven-headed cops. However, there is no evidence to substantiate Amin’s involvement and he is released. He goes home, only to find his house has been ransacked and graffitied, but then he discovers the letter that his wife has left him and the truth is revealed. She was the bomber. He then resolves to discover the terrorist cell who had brainwashed her (he assumes). What he discovers is a world of fear and distrust among family, friends, and the religious radicals he believes to be behind acts of terror. Even his Jewish colleagues at the hospital, who he had considered friends, and who are trying to be sympathetic to his plight, are now viewed with suspicion.

Although The Attack was a story told from the perspective of a Palestinian, it seemed to me that Ziad Doueiri’s film was pretty even-handed. There was no moralising and no simple political messages. On the one hand, we can sympathise with Amin at the end of the picture when he is left wondering if he has abandoned his roots in order to pursue his personal career. The optimism he had expressed in his speech at the start now rings hollow. On the other hand, it is quite easy to sympathise with Amin’s Jewish colleagues when they watch in helpless bewilderment as the man they respect so much starts to distance himself from them. The film also leaves us with the question that features on the poster for the film: “Do you ever really know the one you love?”

Rating: 9/10

Updates: Spelling error corrected on 27.02.14