'On Borrowed Time': Film Review | Palm Springs 2018

Courtesy of Image Nation Abu Dhabi
Four feisty retirees go out with style in this diverting dramedy.

This world premiere film from the United Arab Emirates features a quartet of grumpy old men looking for liberation from their retirement home.

One of the films that had its world premiere in Palm Springs this year was from a country not often represented at any festival: the United Arab Emirates. On Borrowed Time, which benefits from the talents of several Middle Eastern actors, is not a political testament about the conflicts in that part of the world. It’s a tender, humane comedy that might have been set in any country where a group of aging citizens struggle to retain their dignity and their vitality. It might be described as an Arabian variant on Going in Style, which was a hit in 1979 and scored again in a remake just last year.

In this case, the four elderly men at the center of the story do not engage in a criminal enterprise to improve their lot, but they do have dreams of striking it rich that might free them from their retirement home. The leader of the group, Abu Hasan (Saad Al Faraj), dabbles in astrology as he oversees the lives of his three best friends. But the character who makes the strongest impression is one known as “The General,” a former military officer who is played by a superb Syrian actor, Salloum Haddad. He is the one who is the beneficiary of an unexpected inheritance, a windfall that promises to change the lives of all of the retirees in the nursing home. Their young nurse (Fouad Ali) and a female doctor (the engaging Layla Abdullah) become co-conspirators in their get-rich-quick scheme.

The film’s writer-director, Yasir Al Yasiri, has a background mainly in music videos, but he shows a real gift in guiding the actors to sensitive, nuanced performances. Working with cinematographer Adrian Silisteanu, Al Yasiri also does a fine job capturing the intriguing cityscapes of Dubai. The skyline with ultra-modern buildings is a familiar image, but the film also takes us to a disco and to an upper-middle-class neighborhood where the General’s estranged son lives with his family. What we see expands the Western perspective of life in the Arab world.

Stories about a group of lovable old codgers can turn cutesy or sentimental, and Al Yasiri hasn’t entirely avoided those pitfalls here. But there are enough twists in the story to keep us engaged, and the film builds to an emotionally satisfying conclusion without belaboring the sentimentality. In an American marketplace not exactly hospitable to foreign films, this movie without recognizable actors faces some obstacles. But the older Palm Springs audience loved it, and thanks to its warmth and humor, it could find receptive viewers in American theaters.

An Image Nation Abu Dhabi Production
Cast: Saad Al Faraj, Salloum Haddad, Mansour Al Feeli, Marei Al Halian, Fouad Ali, Layla Abdullah
Director-screenwriter: Yasir Al Yasiri, based on a short story by Karim Al Iraqi
Producer: Rami Yasin
Executive producers: Yasir Al Yasiri, Mansoor Al Feeli, Majid Al Ansari
Director of photography: Adrian Silisteanu
Production designer: Faten Dabbous
Costume designer: Hamada Atallah
Editor: Shahnaz Dulaimy
Music: Jerry Lane
Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival

93 minutes