Utpal Borpujari

May 29, 2009

Suleiman lights up Cannes with his personal story with conflict backdrop

By Utpal Borpujari in Cannes

Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s celluloid adaption of his own family’s history in the backdrop of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict since 1948 lit up the 62nd Cannes Film Festival on Friday, opening up the Competition section further.

The Palestine-France co-production in Hebrew and Arabic, in which the director plays himself, is about how normal families have been affected through the years of conflict in the region.

What sets the film apart from the usual conflict film is that the personal stories are at the forefront throughout, and also that it uses a satirical and absurdist tone throughout the film, making it a stinging comment on the insensitivity of such conflicts towards common people.

Divided into four episodes coinciding with major developments in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the film was inspired by the diaries of Suleiman’s father, who was a resistance fighter in 1948, and also his mother’s letters to family members who were forced to live the country since that time.

The 109-minute film is set in Nazareth and through sometimes-comic, sometimes-satirical moments presents a powerful story with the violence always lurking in the background but never dominating the screen, unlike quite a few of the other Palme d’Or contenders this time.

“The film attempts to portray the daily life of those Palestinians who remained in their land and were labeled ‘Israeli-Arabs’, living as a minority in their own homeland,” says Suleiman.

Helmed by some fantastic acting, particularly by Saleh Bakri in the role of the director’s father, the film is distinctly apart from most of the grim and violent or feel-good movies in the Cannes competition this year, thanks to its subtle commenting on the futility of conflict.

Suleiman explains his approach towards making the film thus, “It happens that Palestine has been subject to overexposure in the media which has left it open to ideologies on the Left and the Right. I felt my challenge was to deviate from this simplistic approach by making a film in which there is no history lesson to be learned.”

“I focused on moments of intimacy of a family, hoping for nothing more than to give pleasure to the audience and to achieve a certain cinematic truth. If I achieve this goal, the film becomes universal and the world itself becomes Palestine,” he says.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 24-05-2009)



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