I was first exposed to Annemarie Jacir’s films via Wajib at the London Film Festival in 2017, but I’ve since caught up with her first two feature films. She was born in Bethlehem in 1974, but left to study in the United States. She has written poetry, but is now primarily known for her filmmaking, and is at the vanguard of Palestinian film culture, which I can only imagine is a precarious enterprise in itself (after all, her films gain their funding from many different sources from several different continents, making their co-production credits pretty extensive). Moreover, her work deals with the status of the displaced, whether historically (as in When I Saw You) or in a contemporary setting, and sometimes more directly confronts how it is to live under a state of occupation.
ملح هذا البحر Milh Hadha al-Bahr (Salt of This Sea, 2008) [Palestine/Belgium/France/Spain/Switzerland]
Jacir’s debut feature, like all her films, has a role for Saleh Bakri, though this particular film is focused instead around Soraya (Suheir Hammad), a young woman from Brooklyn NY tracing her family’s Palestinian roots in what is now Israel. It’s a road movie of sorts, and for a brief period it becomes a completely different kind of genre movie (this is perhaps a less successful turn, as it’s never really developed). These two characters travel around the region, struggling with checkpoints and bureaucracy, and living a precarious life trying to avoid attention, particularly in Israel where each of them is looking for their ancestral homes from which their families have long since been displaced. As such, the film confronts prickly issues around identity and home, and its characters are prickly too: there is no easy or comfortable way to deal with this kind of historic trauma and both of them have understandable trouble reconciling their excluded and lower-class status in deeply-policed and gentrified spaces where once they were welcome.
Director/Writer Annemarie Jacir آن ماري جاسر; Cinematographer Benoît Chamaillard; Starring Suheir Hammad سهير حماد, Saleh Bakri صالح بكري; Length 109 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Monday 29 April 2019.
لما شفتك Lamma Shoftak (When I Saw You, 2012) [Palestine/United Arab Emirates/Jordan/Greece, certificate 12]
Jacir’s visual style really comes through here in some striking sequences but also allows its characters to quietly shine. The film is set in the late-60s and takes as its point of view a young kid called Tarek (Mahmoud Asfa), living with his mother (Ruba Blal) in a refugee camp in Jordan, displaced from their homeland. He falls foul of his teachers for showing them up, and eventually falls in with some fedayeen, guerrilla soldiers who are in training to attack the border with Israel and try to force a return home. The drama pits him against his much more sensible mother, and you get the sense of how easy it is to take on the revolutionary cause, especially as a kid, when there seem like few other options available — and in this part of the world at this time, in their situation, it comes across as understandable. That said, the kid can be pig-headed and annoying at times, but he’s at the age for it. It’s a nice little film that incidentally illustrates a number of themes about displacement and colonisation.
Director/Writer Annemarie Jacir آن ماري جاسر; Cinematographer Hélène Louvart; Starring Mahmoud Asfa محمود عسفة, Ruba Blal ربى بلال, Saleh Bakri صالح بكري; Length 93 minutes.
Seen at home (Mubi streaming), London, Thursday 20 September 2018.
واجب Wajib (2017) [Palestine/Germany/Colombia/United Arab Emirates/France/Norway/Qatar, certificate 15]
There’s not apparently very much to this film, which like many of the best films has a simple premise (I’m thinking of Taste of Cherry in its fixed focus on a car trip around a hilly Middle Eastern city). However, it convinces in its generational dynamic of two men, father (Mohammad Bakri) and son (Saleh Bakri), travelling from home to home around Nazareth delivering invitations to the old man’s daughter’s wedding (Maria Zreik). This set-up allows for the testing of family dynamics amongst each other and with their friends and wider circle of relatives, not to mention allowing for discussions of Palestinian food and identity within a contested context of Israeli government/occupation. Most of these issues are not at the surface, but are also very clearly bubbling away throughout. However, most impressive is that the film stays light and filled with humour, as the two men bicker about details, and the son justifies his life and love in Italy while his father hopes for him to move back — a struggle that turns out to be pinned to their absent mother. It’s moving and eloquent, and elaborates a whole society in this microcosm, without ever being preachy. A real highlight (and one I put amongst my favourite films of 2017).
Director/Writer Annemarie Jacir آن ماري جاسر; Cinematographer Antoine Héberlé; Starring Saleh Bakri صالح بكري, Mohammad Bakri محمد بكري, Maria Zreik ماريا زريق; Length 96 minutes.
Seen at Embankment Garden Cinema, London, Thursday 20 September 2018.