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Monday, Sept. 20, 2010

Ajami

Without Money or Power

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Political strife is never shown in Ajami, but the results are seen everywhere. The Palestinian-Israeli co-production, which won Best Film at Israel’s Academy Awards, focuses on impoverished Palestinians in the occupied territories working illegally in Israel. Their landscape is an endless stretch of dusty, cement-walled slums, compact, rubble-strewn and ringed by security fences, guard towers and checkpoints. Ajami is the name of a poor neighborhood in Jaffa, the flashpoint of tragedies to come.

The protagonist through much of the movie is Omar, a 19-year-old Palestinian in trouble. His uncle shot down a Bedouin who tried to rob his café; the Bedouin clan shot the uncle on the streets and marked the entire family for revenge killings. In hiding and with no father present, Omar becomes the family “elder” and negotiates with a fixer who pleads their case before a tribal judge. With the mercy of the Koran as his precedent, the judge imposes a relatively modest fine on Omar’s family; yet modest or not, Omar has no money. His mother soon goes into the hospital for surgery they cannot afford.

From there Ajami digresses onto the parallel tracks of various Palestinians and Jews. Their lives have all been bruised by the strife and—in such close proximity—seem destined to cross. Omar and his younger brothers resort to petty crime to raise money, gain illegal employment in Israel and finally turn to selling drugs. Filmed in vérité style with actors who seem untrained but fully engaged, Ajami depicts Palestine as a cauldron of resentment and even hatred, aggravated by lack of money or power to change things.

4:15 p.m. Sept. 26, Oriental Theatre; 6:30 p.m. Sept. 28, North Shore Cinema; 9 p.m. Oct. 2, Ridge Cinema.