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Genre - Drama
Country - Israel (subtitles)
Run Time - 124 minutes
Certificate - 15
In the turbulent Middle East if the countries get on then their religions won't and if the religions get on then the regions wont and if the regions get on then the tribes won't and if the tribes get on then the neighborhoods won't and so on and so on..... There never will be peace in a place where they use their God as an excuse and an arbiter for everything that happens, maintaining that volatility. They are not happy unless it's kicking off and the consequences are always down to 'Gods Will, of course.
Considering Islam, Judaism and Christianity is actually a bye product of each other in one hazy religion you do wonder what they are actually arguing about. What we do know is criminal gangs and politicians prosper most from this almost deliberate chaos.
The film and directors Scandar Copti, Yaron Shani looks at the above turmoil through the microcosm of a predominately working-class Arabic district of the city of Jaffa in Israel called Ajamai, where everyday life in the close community is unstable as the region. Jews and Christians live with the Muslims but always tensions high. They are trained to hate each other bit need to get along to get through the day.
There are five story lines in the film which are presented in a non-linear and non-chronological order, Pulp Fiction and Amores Perros style. Some of the events are shown multiple times from different perspectives and angles through the main protagonists and events. We are allowed to gather an early impression and feel for the characters, positive and negative, which turn out to be incorrect or skewed as the film presses on. The film is narrated by a young Israeli Arab boy, Nasri, who lives in the Ajami neighborhood.
Fouad Habash ... Nasri
Nisrine Rihan ... Ilham
Elias Saba ... Shata
Youssef Sahwani ... Abu-Lias
Abu George Shibli ... Sido
Ibrahim Frege ... Malek
Scandar Copti ... Binj
Shahir Kabaha ... Omar
Hilal Kabob ... Anan
Ranin Karim ... Hadir
Eran Naim ... Dando Ben David
Twentysomething Arab Israeli boy Nasri (Fouad Habash) is in for a shock when a neighbor is killed in a drive-by shooting while working on a car in their street in his predominately Arab Ajami district of, Jaffa, Tel Aviv in Israel. The hit was intended for Nasri's brother Omar (Shahir Kabaha), as revenge for Nasri's uncle's shooting and maiming of a Bedouin gang member running a protection racket at his restaurant in the busy downtown area of Jaffa five weeks previous.
So enter Christian peacemaker Abu Elias (Youssef Sahwani), a leading member of the community, who decides to bring Omar to a rural Bedouin court session out in the desert, in which a "judge" decides on Omar's fete, agreed amongst the old men smoking something acrid amongst the flies and searing heat. It's decided that Omar has to pay tens of thousands of dinars compensation to the gang for their mans paralysis to end the chain of revenge killings of which Omar could be the next victim. He has 37 days to find the equivalent of $28,000.
Chapter two is that of young Palestinian Muslim guy Malek (Ibrahim Frege), an illegal worker originally from Nablus in Palestine but now working in Abu Elias's restaurant. Malek is desperate to make enough money to get his mother a bone marrow transplant back home in Palestine and working all hours to forefill that.
For Muslim Omar he has another big problem other than the price on his head as he is in love with his boss Abu Elias's pretty daughter Hadir (Ranin Karim), who is a Christian. Abu does not approve of their relationship to the Muslim boy and threatens far worse to the couple than Omar will get at the hands of the vengeful Bedouin.
Another main Character is Binj (ScandarCopti), a cook at the same restaurant, forced by his brother to hold drugs for him when a neighborhood dispute over bleating sheep results in the death of his Jewish Jaffa neighbor (Eran Naim). Omar persuades Malik that selling the drugs to an unknown dealer ill resolve their money issues. But when Binj is also killed the narrative, through the chapters, begin to reveal their connections and how they and the people in the story will eventually interlink, nothing as it seems, a chain reaction in place with fatal consequences for most of the protagonists.
Seven years in the making and heavily improvised, the real magic to this film is the cast are not actors and don't really know what is coming next on set when they shoot the scenes, script and situation wise, a real treat on screen giving it an amazing texture and electric tension. It's hard to believe these guys are untrained. It all feels very real because of the believability of the intense characters as it tackles the internal tribal and bigoted struggles we don't see on the TV news. What people don't realize is the Arab/Christian coalition outnumbers the Jewish population in Israel right now, why Jews around the world feel the need to go and live in Israel and why Hasidic Jews are paid by the state to have as many kids as possible with unemployment rates running at 80% in some of these areas in Israel and on the Golan Heights. It really is a population battle over which religion is the coolest.
The film is a bit long at two hours of subtitles and some of the coincidences that allow the complexity of the narrative to develop are a bit of a stretch, perhaps mechanisms to lever in the rabid dislike of Jews by working-class Arabs when the film as not actually about that. In fact the film is neither anti Arab or Jewish, even though it's made and acted by Arabs and funded by Israel, heavily nominated for awards across the region and Israel's official entry to the Oscars last year, that cooperation the key to its balance, why it's such a quality piece.
What I like most about this film is it addresses the loyalty of family with lots of demonstrative hugs and respect yet the same community that breeds that alpha male internal class and religious conflicts that often power these Middle-East conflicts and civil wars, the tribal war that's really going on in Syria and gang war in Palestine right now, Arabs against Arabs, Muslim against Muslim, Christian against Christian. The scene where the Bedouin elders decree how much Omar's life is worth is extraordinary as it is real in these parts, the casual and almost comical way it refers to the Koran to set these fees erroneous to say the least. When people are crammed into together in the ghettos and religious enclaves they get restless and the religious and tribal groups turn on each other to create a pecking order of authority. I think that side of the film appealed to the Arab and Israel middle-class and they said yes, this stuff is a bigger problem to our every day lives than rockets or suicide bombers coming over from Palestine. I want to watch this film with an open mind. But we all know people with open minds are few and far between when religion is the boss.
This is a smart and enjoyable film full of energy and pace and if you don't mind two hours of subtitles then jump in. The twists work very well and work in context of the jump around narrative. If you liked Amores Perres then you will love this, packed full of believable characters and situations. It's a film that ripples with tension and intrigue from the opening dramatic scene and one of the best for a while from this part of the world that doesn't push a religious viewpoint of Israel and Palestine too much so you have to take sides.
mdb.com - 7.1/10 (3,313 votes)
Rottentomatos.com - 97% critic's approval rating
Metacritc.com - 82% critic's approval rating
Time Out - 'This is vividly challenging, utterly inclusive and heartfelt cinema. It's not only gripping to watch, but it'll open your eyes to the intractable human conundrums behind the blood-stained headlines.
Variety - 'Rarely has the tinderbox nature of the Middle East been so accurately lensed, on such an intimate scale...'
The NY Times -'Rarely has the tinderbox nature of the Middle East been so accurately lensed, on such an intimate scale'.
Film4 -'A rare film that will force you to confront your own prejudices'.
San Diego Searcher - 'Ajami is a powerful crime drama in which all are heroes and all are villains'.