Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ajami (Rhoades)

“Ajami” Examines Middle-Eastern Life
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Want to know how the other half lives? The other half of the world, that is. “Ajami” – the title of a new Jewish-Arab crime film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema – is a small neighborhood in the Jaffa section of Tel Aviv where Arabs, Palestinians, Jews, and Christians live together in an uneasy microcosm of the Middle East.

The film paints a stark portrait of this embattled community by giving us a close-up look at several of its residents:

Omar, an Israeli Arab, who is trying to save his family from a vengeful gang of extortionists. Hadir, a pretty Christian girl being courted by Omar. Malek, an illegal Palestinian worker willing to deal drugs to help his sick mother. Dando, a burly Israeli cop searching for his missing brother. And Binj, a laid-back Arab stoner who likes the dance clubs and Jewish girls.

All of them live in a violent world. In the first minutes of the film, we witness a drive-by shooting, gunfights, and brutal retaliations.

“It’s a jungle,” says one of the characters. “The strong eat the weak.”

This is the first film by writer-director Scander Copti and the second for his partner Yaron Shani. If it seems to have a sense of authenticity, that’s because Copti is himself an Israeli Arab who grew up in Ajami. Not really a documentary, but the film’s non-professional actors give it a doc-like feel. Think: “City of Gold.” Or “Accattone.”

“Ajami” is the first predominantly Arabic-language film to be submitted by Israel for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film. However, it lost its Oscar bid to “The Secret in Their Eyes,” which you recently saw at the Tropic Cinema.

The film’s message: Religious freedom doesn’t mean a peaceful co-existence in Ajami.
[from Solares Hill]

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