Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DVD Review: The Time That Remains

The Time That Remains ***
Directed by: Elia Suleiman   
Written by: Elia Suleiman.
Starring: Elia Suleiman (ES), Saleh Bakri (Fuad), Avi Kleinberger (Government Official), Menashe Noy (Taxi Driver), Nati Ravitz (IDF Commander), Baher Agbariya (Iraqi soldier), George Khleifi (Mayor), Amer Hlehel (Anis), Leila Muammar (Thuraya), Ehab Assal (Man With Cell Phone / Tank), Doraid Liddawi (Ramalla IDF officer), Zuhair Abu Hanna (ES Child),  Ayman Espanioli (ES), Isabelle Ramadan (Aunt Olga), Yasmine Haj (Nadia), Ali Suliman (Eliza's Boyfriend).

Elia Suleiman’s The Time That Remains is a interesting, funny, heartbreaking and not altogether successful look at Palestinian-Israeli relations from 1948 through the present day. Although the film does present the harsh realities of life in the region, it is not for a second heavy handed, nor does one get the impression that it a political polemic. It is a deadpan comedy – in the style of Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati – with its politics overlaid a top of its series of comic vignettes. It’s a very strange film indeed.

The director himself shows up early and late in The Time That Remains – first as a man getting into a taxi at the beginning of the film, the prodigal son returns as it were, and late in the film as the same man walking through the places where his childhood took place. But most of the film is about Suleiman’s father, whose life is seemingly just one damn thing after another. Some of the scenes are tragic, some of them are comic, and some of them are seemingly both at the same time. There are jarring scenes of violence, next to humorous scenes, as when a young Elia is taken out in to the hallway and yelled at for making anti-American remarks in class.

Through each one of these vignettes, there is either Saleh Bakri as Suleiman’s father Fuad, or the various actors who play Suleiman at various ages, taking whatever happens in stride, with their great stone faces betraying little emotions. Bakri is wonderful as Fuad, a man who is trying to raise his family, and be Palestinian in an area where he knows he isn’t wanted, but he does what he can.

For me, not all of The Time That Remains was effective. The film is by its very nature, rather scattershot. There is no momentum pulling the film from one scene to the next, but rather, the film at times feels like one of those omnibus films by various directors working on a theme. Some of these vignettes work, other don’t. But taken as a whole, I think the sum is greater than its parts. It is a portrait of an area we often see in movies, but hardly ever with this type of humor and humanity. It isn’t a great film, but it’s an interesting one.

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