Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ajami: Movie Review

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ajami: Movie Review

Article excerpt

A crime film set in an Israeli town, 'Ajami' captures with great honesty and energy some of the ethnic snarls between Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

The first feature from writer/directors Scandar Copti and Yaron

Shani, "Ajami" is one of this year's five nominees for the Best

Foreign Language Film Oscar. This is the third year in a row that the

Israeli entry has been nominated following decades of rather sparse

representation.

It's not surprising that aesthetically ambitious Israeli films tend

to revolve around ethnic conflicts, particularly with Palestinians.

"Ajami" is no exception, but it takes a refreshingly sideways

approach, compared with its two immediate predecessors among the

Oscar nominees, "Beaufort" and "Waltz With Bashir," both of which

were war films.

"Ajami" is basically a crime film, with cops, drug dealers, and

petty thieves. The title refers to a low-rent area of Jaffa,

populated by a mix of Israelis - Jews, Arab Christians, and Arab

Muslims - as well as desperate Palestinians, who have penetrated

the border illegally in search of decent jobs. It is, in short, an

urban melting pot - a modern Middle Eastern equivalent to the New

York neighborhoods that formed the backdrop for innumerable Hollywood

gangster films in the 1930s and '40s. The film opens with a botched

drive-by shooting: A Bedouin gang seeking revenge for an earlier

incident intends to kill 19-year-old Omar (Shahir Kabaha), but

instead murders a thoroughly innocent neighbor.

Not that Omar seems any less innocent. He has done nothing himself;

it was his uncle who shot one of the Bedouins, triggering the

vendetta. Even his uncle appears to have been acting in reasonable

self-defense, although we only see the incident in a flashback

narrated by Omar's little brother, Nasri (Fouad Habash), whose

interpretation may be unreliable.

Afraid that his entire family will be targeted, Omar appeals to Abu

Elias (Youssef Sahwani), a relatively well-to-do Christian Arab, who

runs the restaurant where Omar is a kitchen worker. …

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