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Movie Review: Ajami, Israel [2009]

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Most of us set up barriers that allow us to avoid reality. When real events crash through the barriers, we lie down ready to die. What happens to human beings when rampant crime, authoritarian family structures, clan rules and revenge killings form a part of everyday life? What does it take for Israeli Muslims and Christians to endure harsh Police measures and racist-inspired attacks, as greedy officials grab Arab land?

"Ajami" is a poor neighborhood dwarfed by the city of Tel-Aviv/Yaffa. Its reality remains hidden to Israelis and unknown to the rest of the world. Ajami is the first directorial effort for two young Israelis Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani. The casting took seven months while they sifted through hundreds of non professional actors until they had 120 in the company. From day one of the shooting the acting was top notch. This ensures the film is completely believable and absorbing throughout its two-hour length.

Ajami was judged best film in Israel and the Toronto Film Festival gave it high marks. Its language is Arabic with a few references in Hebrew. Subtitles are available for the latest North American release. If your Arabic is not up to snuff, I suggest subtitles for the first viewing. The second time through should be entirely in Arabic.

Repeated viewing will reap immense rewards. There are at least five major stories going on, reminding this reviewer of "Pulp Fiction" and "City of Gold" at their best. The directors are masterful at flashback techniques such as demonstrated by "21 Grams" and "Love is a b*tch" to mention two of the best. The latter film and the 1999 Israeli "Absolute Justice" draw seemingly unrelated plot lines into a meaningful mosaic.

As someone who's been to many of the exact locations (or similar) the film portrays, I was thrilled to see how well the film managed to connect these geographical dots together and create a very specific visual language.

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Ajami affects me personally. I too was a sensitive child drawn into a situation that required more maturity and smarts than I possessed. Married twice across ethnic lines the two divorces left me in a no-man's land. At various times I had mentors who deserted me. Twenty years ago, the wisdom embodied in the movie would have proved I was not alone.

For me, a work of cinematic genius often has a universal message. By a single event the directors link a small village near Nablus, the city of Tel-Aviv and a Bedouin encampment.

Digging into the masterwork reveals even more insights. We grow beyond our original perceptions.

This is the highest quality of Ajami. It opens our eyes to a new perspective we never thought possible.

Does Ajami approach universality? If it does, I would not be surprised. I can see a small boy in Pittsburgh watching the movie and realizing he is in the hands of the harsh Police. The young woman disowned by her family after she married out of her religion might take comfort in not being stoned to death. The taxpayer who lost everything to the bankers may empathize with the peasant who never had anything.

A few days ago 30 GOP Senators voted against a young lady who had been gang raped by KBR employees. The Senators ignored Jon Stewart's mockery and my quicklink about their terrible lack of compassion. If Ajami appeared in every theater, would it enlighten them?


Born a month before Pearl Harbor, I attended world events from an early age. My first words included Mussolini, Patton, Sahara and Patton. At age three I was a regular listener to Lowell Thomas. My mom was an industrial nurse a member of the (more...)

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When commenting about Israel, most bloggers are fa... by Jason Paz on Tuesday, Oct 20, 2009 at 1:59:26 PM
has been enhanced by this informative review to wa... by Bill Hare on Tuesday, Oct 20, 2009 at 6:52:54 PM
Different from their co-religionists, they live wi... by Jason Paz on Wednesday, Oct 21, 2009 at 2:13:41 AM