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New Zealand International Film Festival

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Ajami - Film Festival


Israel/Germany 2009, 118m

Directors: Scandar Copti, Yaron Shani

Festivals: Cannes (Directors' Fortnight), Toronto, London 2009
Camera d'Or (Special Mention), Cannes Film Festival 2009

"The Israeli movie Ajami, one of the five Oscar nominees for best foreign-language film, takes its name from a rough neighborhood in Jaffa, a mostly Arab city just south of Tel Aviv.

Crime is endemic, bonds of family and friendship can be both sustaining and fatal, and the urge to escape is no match for the gravitational pull of the place itself.

We could almost be in the Los Angeles of Colors or Boyz N the Hood, the Baltimore of The Wire or the Rio de Janeiro of City of God.

Written and directed by Scandar Copti, an Israeli Arab (who also plays an important supporting role), and Yaron Shani, who is Jewish, the film is acutely insightful about the social divisions within Israel, but it examines them without scolding or sentimentality.

It starts with an accident: a vendetta killing that takes the wrong life and sets off a further chain of reprisals. Nasri (Fouad Habash), 13, and his older brother Omar (Shahir Kabaha), a big-boned, sweet-natured young man, are caught up in it. Trying to protect himself and his family, Omar winds up in debt to Abu Elias (Youssef Sahwani), a local restaurant owner who is the de facto mayor of the neighborhood and the father of Hadir (Ranin Karim), whom Omar dreams of marrying. Elias is a man whose acts of generosity always come with a catch, and you fear for anyone under his wing, including a teenager named Malek (Ibrahim Frege), whose mother is gravely ill and who sneaks in from the West Bank to work in the restaurant.

How exactly these people will cross paths with a policeman named Dando (Eran Naim) is one of the mysteries that hold you in a state of dread through much of the movie. But though it is partly an underworld crime story, Ajami uses the genre as a way of exploring the conditions in which its characters live as well as their psychological complexities." - A.O. Scott, NY Times

In Arabic and Hebrew, with English subtitles