AJAMI (Scandar Copti, Yaron Shani, 2009)

A beneficiary of the legacy of Roberto Rossellini’s and Krzysztof Kieślowski’s narrative strategies unhinging linear plot (think Paisà, 1946, Dekalog, 1988), Ajami is an Israeli masterpiece. Set in Ajami, Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, where Jews, Arabs, including Palestinians, and Christians live together in an atmosphere fraught with tension, luridly gripped by criminal elements and blood-vengeance vendettas, its five chapters recycle characters and bits of plot, expanding our understanding of what we have already seen and achieving a terribly, almost intolerably moving finale. Co-written, -directed and -edited by an Israeli Arab and an Israeli Jew, Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, the film claims an actual incident as its springboard.
     There has been little reconstruction in Jaffa since Israel, responding to protests, ceased demolishing the old Arab neighborhood in the 1950s. With deep unemployment, it is an environment that no one, in its current state, should have to call home. Young inhabitants all bear burdens beyond their means to shoulder: 19-year-old Omar, the intended target of a hit, because of a killing that he individually had nothing to do with (his uncle perpetrated it), that mistakenly takes down someone else, absurdly, anyhow; Nasri, Omar’s 13-year-old brother, who adores Omar, who adores him; 16-year-old Malek, who works in a crime boss’s establishment to earn money to keep his dying mother alive at hospital; others. Speaking specifically, someone lights on a widely applicable generalization: “Money is the only solution.”
     Boaz Yehonatan Yacov’s hauntingly underlit color cinematography leans on gold, suggesting the money so many are after, flickering amidst browns of burial-earth. Some have complained about its murkiness, but they are dead-wrong. Copti, Shani and Yacov achieve supernal clarity, showing us the moral and sociopolitical murkiness that is.
     Exhaustively humane.
     Best film, direction, script, editing, Israeli Film Academy.

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