‘Love, Theft and Other Entanglements’: Berlin Review

Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
Pleasantly stylish but unlikely to drive far

An unlucky car thief finds himself caught up in Israeli-Palestinian politics in an offbeat comedy

Up to now, Palestinian comedy has been mainly identified with the sophisticated, surreal cinema of Elia Suleiman. Love, Theft and Other Entanglements (Al-Hob wa Al-Sariqa waMashakel Ukhra) introduces tyro contender Muayad Alayan, covering many roles here on his first feature. Beautifully filmed in black and white in a knowing retro style flashing on the Fifties and Sixties, with a bit of French New Wave thrown in, it’s a fine-looking picture that doesn’t hang together well. Struggling to find a consistent tone and generate some sympathy for the bumbling protag, it makes a better conversation piece for festivals than a candidate for international release, though it may click in the Middle East with audiences willing to accept un-demonized Israeli characters.

 While poking fun at an Israeli soldier who becomes the hero’s accidental hostage is an original subplot idea, Alayan handles it too delicately, and neither Riyad Sliman, who plays the kvetching Private Avi Cohen, nor Sami Metwasi as the frustrated Palestinian thief Mousa, dares to take his role to the level where it would be laugh-out-loud.  It’s the kind of local comedy that just doesn’t travel well, while as off-beat drama or cross-genre, it’s a bit of a bore.

The action is set around Jerusalem, presumably in the present day, though the cinematography makes one wonder. Negotiations are in progress for a big hostage exchange: scores of Palestinians for one Israeli soldier. Meanwhile, the young car thief  Mousa goes about his business. In spite of being an incorrigible rogue with no patriotism or morals, he has a heart of gold. He’s in love with the married Manal (Maya Abu Alhayyat) whose well-to-do husband doesn’t know his daughter is Mousa’s, and wishes to help his elderly father financially. Instead he maneuvers both of them into major fixes. He puts Dad’s work permit in danger when he walks away from an honest job as a bricklayer on the Israeli side of Jerusalem, knowing he can make a month’s salary in a couple of hours by stealing a car.  But Mousa is also a loser, and the car he picks on a shady Jerusalem street has some extra baggage riding in the trunk. Only after the angry Palestinian militia comes after him does he realize there’s an Israeli soldier in there, very much alive and complaining.

Mousa plans to emigrate to Europe but urgently needs $5,000 for the fixer. But he can’t sell the car parts, now that everybody is looking for the VW Passat he has parked on the edge of the desert. And there’s the problem of what to do with soldier in the trunk, who turns out to be another loser. Mousa brushes off an offer to become a collaborator for the Israelis because he’s afraid the mafia-like Palestinian militia will kill him. At the same time, the all-powerful Israelis have him over a barrel because they can track him through his cell phone, and even blackmail him with compromising pictures of him and Manal in bed.

It’s hard to see where the story is going as it circles around this situation, which had room to be much funnier. One suspects Mousa is being set up for some last-minute heroics like a latter-day General Della Rovere, but the ending is arbitrary and unconvincing. Still, there is an original voice here that will keep interest high in the director's future work. The quality of the lensing is apparent (Alayan, who is also a talented cinematographer, did the lighting). A stylish music score by Nathan Daems rescues many a scene with its unexpected jazziness.


Production company: PalCine Productions
Cast: Sami Metwasi, Maya Abu Alhayyat, Riyad Sliman, Ramzi Maqdisi
Muayad Alayan
Screenwriters: Rami Alayan, Muayad Alayan
Producers: Muayad Alayan, Rami Alayan
Executive producers: Rami Alayan, Muayad Alayan
Director of photography: Muayad Alayan
Production designer: Rami Alayan
Costume designer: Hamada Atallah
Editor: Sameer Qumsiyeh

Music: Nathan Daems
Casting: Ihab Jadallah, Noor Hodaly
No rating, 93 minutes