The Time That Remains -- Film Review

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Seven years after "Divine Intervention," director Elia Suleiman returns with more humorous-sad stories from his native Palestine, couched in the ironic autobiographical language at which he is grandly adept. "The Time That Remains" and its subtitle, "Chronicle of a Present Absentee," suggest that there is little to hope for in the current political situation, where Suleiman's own role is that of a passive observer. Despite its serious subject, this gentle, bittersweet film is an easy watch and should penetrate arthouse markets at least as well as its predecessor.

Examining his own uncomfortable status as an Israeli Arab through the memories of his family in Nazareth, Suleiman traces his family's history from 1948, the year Israel declared its independence. The fighting between various Arab armies and the Israelis is seen first as farce, then as drama when his father, Fuad Suleiman (played with silent intensity by the handsome Saleh Bakri), a resistance fighter, is almost killed by the new Israeli army. Poorly armed with homemade weapons, the resistance movement is doomed.

Fuad survives, however, and has a son, Elia (Zuhair Abu Hanna), who is constantly in trouble at his Israeli school for his political views. This is succinctly conveyed in a pair of face-offs between the boy and his teacher. Dialogue is kept to a minimum and visuals take the lead in conveying the awkwardness of his family's life as Arabs living in Israel, without nationality, under a military administration. Yet life goes on in its ordinary absurdity.

Elia's deadpan family keeps their thoughts to themselves, though their crazy alcoholic neighbor (Tarek Qubti) doesn't mince words when talking about politics. His is virtually the only open protest against Israel in a film imbued with a fine sense of irony and much more regretfulness than anger.

Time passes and Elia becomes a wide-eyed teenager (Ayman Espanioli). More time passes, and he becomes Elia Suleiman in person. He has returned to Nazareth to visit his aged mother, who is lost in her own world. The Israeli police are unbelievably nice and cooperative -- one even brings over homemade tabouleh, washes the dishes and cleans the house. Meanwhile, in Ramallah, a huge army tank menacingly points its gun at an Arab man who totally ignores the threat, the way kids dancing in a discotheque ignore curfew.

Despite the long list of co-producers, the film was clearly made on a budget, a fact that gives it a more intimate and personal look than an epic dimension. Violence is kept off-screen and there are no action scenes per se. The retro charm of old Nazareth is captured by Marc-Andre Batigne's cinematography and deceptively naive camera movement, barely more than in a silent movie. Soundtrack is a funny selection of songs that range from "Jingle Bells" to a disco remix of "Staying Alive," each with a point to make, and a heady excerpt of "Spartacus" is thrown in as a freebie.

Section: In competition
Production company: The Film, Nazira Films, France 3 Cinema, Artemis Productions, RTBF, Belgacom, BIM Distribuzione, Corniche Pictures.

Cast: Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri, Samar Qudha Tanus, Shafika Bajjali, Tarek Qubti, Zuhair Abu Hanna, Ayman Espanioli, Bilal Zidani, Leila Muammar, Yasmine Haj.
Director: Elia Suleiman
Screenwriter: Elia Suleiman
Executive producers:Hani Farsi
Producers: Michael Gentile, Elia Suleiman
Director of photography: Marc-Andre Batigne
Production designer: Sharif Waked
Music consultant: Yasmine Hamdan
Costumes: Judy Shrewsbury
Editor: Veronique Lange
Sales Agent: Wild Bunch, Paris
112 minutes
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