Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ajami **1/2

Director: Scandar Copti, Yaron Shani
Cast: Fouad Habash, Youssef Sahwani, Ibrahim Frege
Ranin Karim, Eran Naim, Scandar Copti, Nisrine Rihan, Abu George Shibli

"Ajami" is a well intentioned film that tries to say more than it can grasp. Its fractured storytelling and docudrama qualities try to evoke the way in which gritty subjects have been discussed cinematically for the last decade or so but because of this the film's themes come off as forced and cliché.
The extensive plot of the movie can be divided in four different stories that eventually intersect.
There's Omar (Kabaha) a young Muslim Israeli Arab who becomes the target of Bedouin gangsters who threaten to kill him unless he pays them fifty thousand dollars. Malek (Frege) is a young Palestinian working illegally in an Israeli restaurant to pay for his mother's surgery. Dando (Naim), a Tel Aviv cop trying to find the Arabs who murdered his brother and Binj (Copti) a modern sort of Palestinian who does drugs, techno and Jew girls.
Their lives and many others interconnect in the Ajami neighborhood in Jaffa where life is worth a penny and people hate each other because it's tradition.
Co-directors Copti and Shani, a Jew and a Palestinian themselves, are able to convey this sense of multiculturality that one would find in such a place and there are intimate scenes with Arab and Hebrew dialogues spoken at once that resonate because they seem firsts on film.
However with their tiresome techniques of flashbacks and multiple points of view, the movie makes it obvious that for the directors it was never about empathy but about delivering the same message we've heard a thousand times before.
Not that the message is bad (for who supports the Middle Eastern conflict?) but by now it should be clear that the ways in which it's been tried to be solved have proved completely unsuccessful.
Why for example are the characters at the film's center essentially good but morally inclined to wrong others?
Whatever happened to the notion of the existence of people who are immoral and have no humane reasons to justify their behavior? It's these kinds of people who should be studied in "Ajami".
Copti and Shani even attempt to introduce a Romeo and Juliet like story-complete with severe parents who unwillingly provoke death-that still never help the movie seem more than a modern take on an old story.
To top it all off there's also a sense of confusion that prevails over the film not because the filmmakers planned it this way but because it's their debut film and they still have details to polish. The running time isn't only too long but there are lots of loose ends, sloppy edits and unnecessary twists which make the characters hard to connect to and also fail as detached microcosm studies.
"Ajami" has some stirring moments and others that break your heart but as a whole it's as thematically disconnected and confused as the people it talks about.


CS said...

I enjoyed this one much more than you did. Though you make serval valid points in your review. Especially in regards to the technical side of things.

Jose said...

It's quite "enjoyable" you're right about that, it just didn't catch me you know.