Friday, 24 June 2011
The Time That Remains
Starring: Ali Suliman, Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri, Samar Qudha Tanus, Shafika Bajjali
By Alan Bacchus
Elia Suleiman's autobiographical portrait of 60+ years of his Palestinian family living under occupation in Israel is brought to life with his own brand of silent cerebral comedy. This highly regarded film played notably at Cannes and Toronto, and now a couple of years later it makes its way to DVD. From the mix of sharp and highly personal political commentary and wicked black comedy, indeed it feels like an auteur presence at the helm with very important subject matter. Unfortunately, Suleiman's insistence on style distances himself from his subjects at the most crucial points in the film. But politically it's a powerhouse, in line with other fine political comedies from marginalized peoples, such as Tales from the Golden Age and Goodbye Lenin.
Suleiman begins in 1948 with the victory of the Israelis in creating their own state at the expense, of course, of the native Palestinians, including Fuad, the patriarch of the Suleiman family and a rebellious young man keen on fighting the Israelis in the name of his people. Director Suleiman structures the film in a series of episodes over the course of this period, with Fuad and his family as the throughline.
In the ‘70s, Fuad is a father and a family man, reluctantly accepting of his position, but quietly eager and worried that his son has continued the tradition of rebelliousness. Unfortunately, he would later see his son forced to leave the country when he's an adult and thus more dangerous to the establishment. The film ends with Fuad and his wife quietly contemplating their life together in a land of perpetual conflict.
Suleiman is not shy to wear his opinion loud and proud. The Israelis are portrayed as war mongering control freaks, shamefully denigrating the people they have ‘conquered’. The opening scene of the Israeli leaders giving the Palestinian leaders their one-sided terms of surrender and then in the same breath asking to take their picture with them is utterly painful and comically tragic.
Much of the comedy comes silent without dialogue from the observance of the sad ironies. Suleiman's strong wide-angle compositions and portraits highlight both the absurdity and horror of war. Perhaps the most memorable image comes towards the end of this film. It’s a shot of a tank pointing its gun at a Palestinian man walking casually from his home. The site of the massive gun mere inches away from the innocent man is monumentally absurd, but representative of the statement the film wants to make.
In the final segment, the concerted lack of emotion from the characters wears thin, and as the picture comes to its close we desperately want to engage with them, but don't. Suleiman, who goes in front of the camera to play the elder Fuad (I think?), enacts his Tati/Keaton persona, a sequence wherein Fuad simply walks into rooms, stares at his wife sitting on her balcony and then walks away. Comparisons have been made to the silent mugging of Buster Keaton, but silence is about the only thing these two have in common. Here, the segment is egotistical and furthers the distance from his characters for the sake of his artificial aesthetic.
It’s a shame the film peters out with art house obtuseness instead of elevating and intensifying itself to make a stronger statement.
The Time That Remains is available on DVD from EOne Home Entertainment in Canada.