By Alexandra Wells
ArtsPost Staff Writer
Instead of spending millions of dollars and countless hours negotiating Middle Eastern peace, politicians should spend $10 of their money watching “Ajami,” an Israeli film masterpiece. Going in, most audience members would notice the Hebrew and Arabic side-by-side during the opening and closing credits: a symbol for the entire theme of the film, which is centered in the multiethnic neighborhood in Jaffa, Israel. This movie was a first for both directors, Scandar Copit (who also stars in the film) and Yaron Shani, an Israeli Arab and an Israeli Jew, respectively.
This ingenious film, a medley of odd parallels, was eight years in the making. The directors chose to use nonprofessional actors. It is depressing, as any story would be when based on the daily perils in such a complicated region, “Ajami” manages to be amazingly unbiased, or maybe, influenced on both sides. Realizing that life is not easy or straightforward for people on either side of the conflict, the movie focuses on the lack of money, love and peace that shape every character.
After taking the Israeli Oscars by storm, the film then became the runner-up at the Cannes Film Festival and finally made it into the finals of the Academy Awards foreign-film section. Although not a documentary, this film feels so painfully realistic that it was hard to resist the urge to be angry or feel pity for characters who don’t truly exist. The fatalistic story is displayed in four chapters that, at times, circle-back on previous stories in order for the audience to truly understand what events have taken place.
At the heart of the film is the realization that every character has severely misunderstood a situation because of profoundly ingrained cultural and religious biases. No “side” is shown as better or worse, and anyone who sees this film can come away feeling ashamed and saddened with the Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Bedouins and Jews behaviors’ in the film. The chapters in the film create a sudden flip-flop of the audience’s emotions and make the plot much more intriguing to pick apart.
The movie focuses on seven main characters, at least one of which everyone can sympathize with in some profound way. The story unfolds as a young teenage Arab boy, Nasri, talks about how his neighbor has been shot instead of his older brother, Omar, whom the shooters thought they had killed. Another part of the film delves into restaurateur Abu Elias, who helps Omar’s family pay back the “blood debt” to the shooters family and is concerned that his daughter is in love with an inappropriate, or not Christian, boy.
Illegal immigrants to Israel, hard drugs, police brutality, soldiers missing in action and family illnesses that cause massive debt all add to the somber tone of this bleak movie. However, as I left the theater with tears in my eyes, I couldn’t help but think there was still hope for this bitterly torn-apart desert region. If only some politicians could take time out of their busy schedules to watch this impressive film and better understand all sides of the dispute.