Smoke Without Fire

The Time That Remains (Suleiman, 2009) is the most powerful Palestinian film that I’ve watched thus far. It’s a semi-biographical film about Suleiman’s father’s experience of the Nakba, his own early childhood and his mother’s final days.

Such is Suleiman’s secret: he makes smoke without fire—calm, acrid, almost noiseless films on a subject that is never less than inflammatory. His method finds order in the madness. Not that you will ever mistake the slant of his sympathies. It’s just that his vision of suffering is so scrupulous, and so mercifully free of histrionics, that it crosses the battle line of the argument. (Guibert, 2011)

Suleiman uses a very specific visual style reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s work, a focus on symmetry and colour that embellishes his film’s surreal tone. There are also similarities between Suleiman’s and Anderson’s use of quirky humour to describe tragedy; Suleiman’s visual wit allows him to find “comedy in cruelty, and also the reverse (Scott, 2010)”. And to create “the joke that saddens (Guibert, 2011)”. Continue reading



Private (Costanzo, 2004) explores ownership of territory through the a plot in which Israeli soldiers occupy the house of a middle class Palestinian family, relegating them to one small section of their beloved home:

Mohammad […] is a Palestinian teacher and active pacifist. He lives with his family in a home located in an area between a Palestinian village and Israeli settlements. His wife Samia (Areen Omari) feels unsafe in these surroundings and would like to move, but Mohammad’s pride does not allow him and his middle class family to be labeled with the status of refugee. He decides to stay. (El Fassed, 2005)

Continue reading

Port of Memory

My most recent foray into Palestinian film is Port of Memory (Aljafari, 2010):

The history of the town of Jaffa, a thriving port city now part of Tel Aviv, provides the background for Aljafari’s most recent film, centering on his mother’s family at risk of eviction if they can’t find proof that the house they have lived in for decades belongs to them. Their predicament is rendered with Aljafari’s usual subtlety, as well as deadpan humor and dark wit. This skeletal narrative provides the scaffolding for a portrait of life in what was once a bustling neighborhood that was nearly emptied by fighting during the establishment of the state of Israel, and then suffered decades of official neglect. In the meantime, Jaffa was often used as a location for action adventure movies featuring the likes of Chuck Norris. While these films used the city as a generically exotic location, they have now become, in a neat bit of irony, the source of documentary images of the city as it was. (Havard Film Archive, 2010) Continue reading


I finally found a copy of Houria (Hattab, 2010) which was one of the shorts mentioned in a paper on Palestinian cinema that I read a while ago.

It’s described in Queer/Palestinian Cinema: A Critical Conversation on Palestinian Queer and Women’s Filmmaking (Jankovic & Awad, 2012):

Images of a mermaid Hattab sprawled at the shore- line of the former Palestinian town of Manshiye — an area between present- day Tel Aviv and Jaffa’s Old City that was destroyed in — are interwoven with Hattab’s aunt’s story of her family’s dispersion during al nakba (the catastophe), which created the Israeli state through the displacement and near-destruction of Palestinian society […]Throughout Houria, a queer and feminist perspective reframes a predominantly masculinist narrative of Palestinian national loss and struggle for return through the emphasis on listening to Hattab’s aunt’s voice. Similarly, Hattab performs a kind of in- between state — queerly embodied as neither male nor female, human nor fish, and positioned between the resort beaches of Tel Aviv and the shores of the Old City of Jaffa.  (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p140) Continue reading

The Nakba and the construction of identity in Palestinian film

The Nakba and the construction of identity in Palestinian film (Hedges, 2011) is a paper that I came across while researching the last film that I watched, Rana’s Wedding (Abu-Assad, 2002). It’s full of interesting quotes and theories, so this post is more a collection of them than a coherent piece in itself.

Hedges begins by identifying memory as performative:

The work of memory is described here as “performative” in the sense that it creates a shared world and ultimately helps to forge a collective identity. (Hedges, 2011)

And she gives some good background on Palestinian history and suggests that:

The idea of Palestinian nationhood is now increasingly associated with cultural manifestations—in film, in literature, in art, in music—that serve to bind together the sense of a community with common goals.(Hedges, 2011)

She references a quote from Edward Saïd:

No Arab community has in so short a period of time—a little less than a generation—reflected so deeply and so seriously as a community on the meaning of its history, the meaning of a pluralistic society given the dismal fate of multiethnic communities in the world, the meaning of national independence and self-determination against a background of exile, imperialist oppression, and colonialist dispossession (Saïd, 1992 p176-177). Continue reading