Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available on DVD or an instant-streaming service.
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A sweet romance between two young lovers living in the occupied West Bank? Or a firm political comment on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as told from the Palestinian side? Hany Abu-Assad’s Oscar-nominated film from Palestine is really both of these films, and the juxtaposition of these two stories is its strength: it is not so much political as it is humanist. It is both a love story and the story of a situation that has no easy answer. The film does not attempt to give us any.
There are, and will be, certain objections to the film. One can easily see the film as one sided (from the Palestinian view) and as depicting the Israelis as bloodthirsty torturers intent on turning the Palestinians against each other. Indeed, the film does portray the Israelis as such, and the criticisms are founded. But all films are one sided, and a great, Academy Award-winning director once told me that every director has a slant, and every film is told through that slant. Once you understand that, you have to the see the film as a film.
The direction is nothing short of spectacular: the story is intriguing, the acting is real, the settings are well crafted, and the cinematography tells a visual story. The film also keeps us guessing until the last shot, and that last shot is quite illuminating, if not stunning. The filmic influences are abundant: the Western, Film Noir, Hitchcock, and The Battle of Algiers—a classic film about the Algerian resistance against French occupation. All play their part well.
The Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film is a stellar category this year. My personal pick in the category is The Great Beauty. I would not be surprised, however, if Omar pulls the upset. It is a wonderful film.
Starts at the Mayan Theater on March 7.
You will like this film if you enjoyed The Battle of Algiers, Incendies, or The Separation.
The Square (2013)
Revolutions are messy. The Square, a 2013 Egyptian/American documentary directed by Jehane Noujaima about the recent Egyptian protests in Tahrir Square, can also be messy at times, but it captures the spirit of the uprisings and the steadfast character of the people involved. The film moves slowly and thoughtfully at times and then is injected with sudden moments of action and violence; the structure, you come to realize, mirrors the process being documented. And it is brilliant.
We begin in Tahrir Square in 2011 and meet the principal characters: Ahmed, a street kid who becomes the conscience of the film; Magdy, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood; and Khalid, a famous actor from the upper class who speaks perfect English from years of living in England. The film follows these three characters (and several other, smaller characters) over the course of three years and through all of the upheaval—from Mubarak’s ouster to the election of Mohammed Morsi and beyond. The characters are all very different, and while it is a stretch to say they are representative of the larger group, they come to define the larger group for us.
The footage, much of which is shot in the middle of the action, is beautiful and stunning. Intercut is footage of the Army chief and other Egyptian military figures—most of which serves to highlight their deep hypocrisy. While there is disturbing footage of police attacks and bleeding bodies, the most disturbing footage is of these leaders lying directly to their people. Overall, cinematography and editing work together to fuse style and content.
Filmmaker Noujaima was jailed at one point during the protests; she was also shot at, gassed, and trampled. The making of the film mirrors the events it documents, and it is for this reason that the film is so compelling. We’ve seen many stories and films on the Arab Spring, but this one has realism, urgency, and humanity that others miss. The film is banned in Egypt, and it is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Whether the film wins or not is irrelevant; it is still one of the most urgent documentaries to grace the screen in a long time.
This film is available on Netflix.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Dirty Wars, The Cove, or Food Inc.
This film, along with all other films I’ve reviewed, can be found at the Sam Gary Library. Look for the Indie Prof display at the end of the DVD racks. You can also find this film under the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus.
Vincent Piturro, PhD, teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at email@example.com