This is a delightful film, which I recommend to everyone.
Yes, it’s a Palestinian film, from the Palestinian perspective and where it touches on Israel it does not do so sympathetically. Palestinians are hassled at checkpoints, and ‘occupation’ is blamed, not terrorism. Americans for the most part come off cold, naive and xenophobic. But it is one of the most honest films that I’ve seen in a while.
The plot is simple. Muna, a divorced Christian Palestinian woman with a teenage son, Fadi, feels that he has no future in the territories and emigrates to a small Illinois town where her sister lives. Her encounter at the airport with US immigration personnel is priceless: “Occupation?” asks the official, and Muna replies “Yes, it is occupied, for forty years.”
The year is 2003, Americans are worried about terrorism and teenagers are …teenagers, which makes it hard for Fadi, whom they creatively call ‘Osama’. Muna’s sister Raghda and her doctor husband Nabeel have money and marital problems as Nabeel’s practice suffers when fearful or biased patients leave. And the educated Muna, a former bank employee, struggles to find a job, ultimately flipping burgers at White Castle.
There’s no sex, no violence more serious than kids punching each other, and only the barest whiff of the inevitable Hollywood ‘love interest’.
Here’s what I liked about it:
The Palestinian Arab actors. Americans do a bad job playing Arabs — what can I tell you?
Linguistic realism. They spoke Arabic (with subtitles), English, and a mixture of English and Arabic that reminded me of my own family’s mixed English and Hebrew.
The view of America — good and bad — from the ‘outside’. Anyone who’s been unemployed will recognize Muna’s experiences looking for a job. When I came back to the US after almost a decade in Israel, I felt a similar disconnect, despite my good English and cultural understanding. There is a warmth about Middle Eastern people that came through clearly.
The de-emphasis of politics. It’s not a Zionist film, I didn’t expect one, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with Palestinian victimhood.
There’s nothing deep about it, but it’s well-done and entertaining.
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