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A Great Israeli Film

  • Mar 8, 2010

A Great Israeli Film

Amos Lassen

Nominated for the Academy Award as Best Foreign Film, "Ajami" is proof that the Israeli film industry has come a very long way in a short 60 years. "Ajami" is the first full length film directed by two young Israelis, Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani and they have every reason to be proud of themselves. They give us a wonderful film featuring five separate stories set in Ajami, a poor Arab neighborhood near the city of Yafo. What is so amazing is that the characters in the film are played by non-professional actors and it almost seems as if we are watching a documentary. We see a side of Israel and Israeli society that we do not usually see in Israeli films--especially Arab Muslims and Arab Christians living together.
The film is named for the Yafo (Jaffa) neighborhood several neighborhood residents who live surrounded by crime and adhere to strict Arab family structures and rules and the law of the clan. There are revenge murders, racism, and harsh police brutality. There is also a growing Jewish presence in the neighborhood. The movie tells the same story from different angles and it gives us a harsh view of street life and crime in and near Yafo. This is a sensitive look at a situation in which children need more maturity than what is expected for their ages as well as a love affair that causes disapproval because it does not fit in with ethnic lines. There is a figure of authority who may protect someone today but kill him tomorrow.
This is a strong film and it is not often that we get the chance to see so many diverse landscapes and locations in one relatively small film--we see Tel Aviv, a small village near Nablus (Schehem), a Bedouin camp and these are all linked by one single event. By and large the film is in Arabic (with lots of really foul language) and it deals with a world that most Israelis only hear about on the news stations. We are witness to the crime and the poverty in areas on the sides of the cities of Israel and the fact that Ajami is so close to Tel Aviv (the New York of the Middle East) is quite a shock.
"Ajami" is a complex crime story complete with characters that seem doomed from the start. An Israeli Muslim is caught in the middle of a family feud that turns excessively violent and involves murder and revenge. An illegal Palestinian worker is in bad need of money so that he can aid his ill mother and both of these men need protection from a rich restaurant owner who is also important locally and puts himself above politics and law enforcement. Both men become involved in a drug deal and of course tragedy ensues.
I would not say that this is a nice film to see and it is obviously not meant to be. It is very realistic and direct and certainly full of sophistication but every place has its Ajami and none of us, in the worlds of one of the neighborhood children, should ever close our eyes.

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Amos Lassen ()
Ranked #177
I am an academic who reivews movies and books of interest to the GLBT and Jewish communities.   I came to Arkansas after having been relocated here due to Hurricane Katrina. I was living in … more
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The stroy of a drugs dealers fight in Israel, combining the Arabic-Jewish conflict in Jaffa. The Israeli Nominee for the 2010 foreign film OSCAR award. PAL region 2 only. Playable on any multizone/PC-DVD players. 120 Minutes. NO English subtitles. Hebrew subtitles when translated from Arabic. Dolbi Digital sound Full screen
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