Ajami

  • 2009
  • Movie
  • Drama

Ajami -- jointly directed by Scandar Copti, an Israeli-Arab filmmaker, writer, and actor, and Yaron Shani, a Jewish-Israeli filmmaker -- is a movie that pulls no punches and takes no sides while delineating in a somber (but cinematically engrossing) manner the layers of conflict and bitterness that afflict Israeli and Palestinian societies. It does so through...read more

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Reviewed by Bruce Eder
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Ajami -- jointly directed by Scandar Copti, an Israeli-Arab filmmaker, writer, and actor, and Yaron Shani, a Jewish-Israeli filmmaker -- is a movie that pulls no punches and takes no sides while delineating in a somber (but cinematically engrossing) manner the layers of conflict and bitterness that afflict Israeli and Palestinian societies. It does so through a series of interlocking tragedies involving Arab, Christian, and Jewish families, where all three groups and their extended social relations come up against each other, mostly in Jaffa, a tough Arab community near Tel Aviv, and in Tel Aviv itself. The performances by the mostly nonprofessional cast coupled with the fluid direction and the distinctly nonlinear narrative give the entire movie the feel of a documentary, though the plot elements do fit together a little too neatly (one actually wishes that this movie ran slightly longer with a less smoothly delineated ending).

This verisimilitude is enhanced by the fact that the movie does not take sides in any of the levels of strife that are depicted. One gets a terrible sense of foreboding throughout the film, as the most innocent social interaction, driven by the best impulses on the part of the participants, can lead to serial deaths and revenge killings. Family relationships, among Arabs, Jews, and Christians, are depicted as stabilizing and destructive forces, and the violence, even in a cinematic world in which graphic and mass death are commonplace, is still depicted in startlingly graphic and shocking terms. Nonetheless, for all of the harshness of the movie's subject matter, the two directors have imbued their movie with a layer of gracefulness in the storytelling that makes one want to see this movie a second time, not only to take in the latter on a deeper level, but also to marvel at the manner in which the interlocking pieces of the violent puzzle do fit together so naturally (if a little too neatly); the sense of doom here, and the interlocking narrative chunks (broken down into chapters) reminds one of American film noir classics such as Stanley Kubrick's The Killing and, to a lesser degree, Abraham Polonsky's Force of Evil, but Copti (who also plays a small but key supporting role) and Shani, have carried the storytelling into nonlinear territory beyond anything seen in classic noir. Their achievement -- this is the first primarily Arab-language movie to get so high-profile a release in Israel and, even more importantly, outside of Israel -- has been honored with an Academy Award nomination and a ton of rave festival notices from around the world; and for once, the hype is justified. The entire cast, nonprofessional though most of them are, deserves accolades as well. Among the elements that Hollywood may notice will be the presence of the hauntingly beautiful Ranin Karim in the role of Hadir, but if she takes her acting seriously, she'll stay away from the offers that undoubtedly will be coming her way.

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  • Released: 2009
  • Review: Ajami -- jointly directed by Scandar Copti, an Israeli-Arab filmmaker, writer, and actor, and Yaron Shani, a Jewish-Israeli filmmaker -- is a movie that pulls no punches and takes no sides while delineating in a somber (but cinematically engrossing) manner… (more)

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