Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2011 2:17 pm 
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Nowhere much to go

Sameh Zoab's genial but low-energy feature (co-written with Fred Rice) focuses on a young Israeli Arab slacker and his disgruntled father. Zoabi adopts a rambling sitcom style as the utilitarian means of showing the hemmed-in life lived by Arabs whose town long ago became a part of Israel and who must submit to the racism, limited movement, land grabs and other quiet humiliations that go with living where they do. These are topics more wittily and artistically shown in the films of Elia Suleiman, or in the case of land grab issues, more intensely worked out in Eran Riklis' Lemon Tree. Zoabi's aim however is is to emphasize the humdrum, to keep things casual. Thus Zoabi shows the everyday quality of the frustrations on view. Deeply memorable this is not, but as a young filmmaker focused on Palestinian issues, Zoabi is one to watch.

Dimply-cheeked charmer Jawdat (Razi Shawahdeh) is a non-starter at the university because he keeps failing the Hebrew exam. So he works making concrete with his cousin Muhammad (Louai Nofi) and chats up girls on his cell phone. His father is the film's spokesman of Israeli-Arab anger: Salem (Bassem Loulou) never stops remembering times when the land was beautiful and it was theirs. He points out that Palestinians like them with Israeli citizenship are treated like inferiors in a thousand ways. Salem's big focus now is the new cell phone tower the Israelis have set up on land adjacent to his olive groves, on land leased to them by a neighbor. Salem is convinced the tower radiation causes cancer.

Jawdat fails the Hebrew exam again, and can't take it again till next year. A local cop hassles him for being interested in his sister. He's blocked from visiting another girl he's particularly interested in who lives on the Left Bank. His frequent calls there have been monitored and are considered suspicious. These experiences politicize him a bit, and he gets quite involved in a petition his father started to force removal of the tower.

Don't get your hopes up. None of this goes anywhere, though it seems like maybe Jawdat may get to go to the Hebrew university and hence date the cool girl who's studying there. He also makes an excellent impression on the local Arab mayor with his ability to galvanize some of the population. Zoabi adds another little tile to the mosaic of Arab life under Israeli domination. It its light, situational approach, this film somewhat resembles Sayed Kashua's hit Israeli sitcom about Arabs employed in Israel, Arab Work."

The film is set in Iksal, the Palestinian village near Nazareth where Sameh Zoabi himself was born. Zoabi graduated from the University of Tel Aviv in English literature and film studies and has an MFA in film directing from Columbia. His short Be Quiet won multiple prizes. Filmmaker Magazine named him one of the top 25 new faces in independent cinema. This is his first feature. Though it has some rough spots in the writing and deficiencies in the energy level, Zoabi still could be a new director to watch for his treatment of themes of Palestinian experience.

83 minutes. In Palestinian Arabic. Cinematography by Hichame Alaouie, editing by Simon Jacquet; music by Krishna Levy. Bidoun mobile was featured at the Doha Festival. Seen and reviewed as part of New Directors/New Films, presented from March 23 through April 4, 2011 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA, New York.
ND/NF screenings:
2011-04-01 | 6:00 PM | FSLC
2011-04-03 | 1:30 PM | MoMA

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