Saturday, May 1, 2010

AJAMI / ***

Distributor: Kino
Release Date: February 3, 2010
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 120 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated

“Ajami” is the third straight film from Israel to score a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, following “Beaufort” and “Waltz with Bashir.” Of the three, “Ajami” is the most shocking because it has an immediacy to it that is underlined with bursts of shocking violence.

The title refers to a real neighborhood in the Tel Aviv – Jaffa metropolis of Israel. Ajami is a hotbed melting pot of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and the film follows all of them without taking sides. There’s Omar (Shahir Kabaha), “a young Israeli fighting a criminal vendetta against his family.” There’s young Malek (Ibrahim Frege), a “Palestinian refugee working illegally to finance a life-saving surgery” for his mother. There’s Dando (Eran Naim), “a Jewish police detective obsessed with finding his missing brother.” There’s Binj (Scandar Copti, also a co-writer and co-director), “an affluent Palestinian dreaming of a future with his Jewish girlfriend.”

This is one of those movies where the outcome of just about every situation appears destined to be tragic. In the opening minutes, a young man working on his car is gunned down in broad daylight. We don’t learn the reason he was killed until later in the movie. We also learn that he was killed by mistake. Violence begets more violence. Instead of turning the film into a bloody tale of vengeance, everyone gets together and talks about how to stop the violence. Money is involved. How much money is life worth? They don’t just come up with a number arbitrarily – they actually calculate it based on many factors. It’s the most fascinating scene in the movie.

The film successfully tackles multiple viewpoints, likely due to the varying backgrounds of co-writers / directors Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani. Copti is an Arab Israeli and Shani is a Jewish Israeli, and differences like these are examined with acute awareness in “Ajami.”

Theater: Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof Theater, Omaha, Nebraska
Time: 630 pm
Date: April 30, 2010

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