Directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani
Cinephiles everywhere threw popcorn at their televisions this past Oscar night when Argentina's The Secret In Their Eyes won the award for Best Foreign Language Film, shockingly beating frontrunners The White Ribbon and Un Profète. Now, after seeing Ajami, which was also a nominee for said award, it removes all doubt that Academy voters are the most out of touch people in the movie house.
Co-written/edited/directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani (both Israeli, Copti is Palestinian, Shani is Jewish), Ajami, which is named after a real neighbourhood in Tel Aviv, follows four different men whose unique predicaments and hardships of ghetto life in ethno-culturally divided Israel converge. Their woven narratives include endemic street warfare, drug dealing, star-crossed lovers and the seemingly solution-less conflicts between Jews, Muslims and Christians inhabiting a territory where each claim ownership.
Narrated by a 13-year-old boy who witnesses everything, he keeps a mesmerizing graphic diary of words and sketches (which is featured all too briefly) that casts the harsh veracity of Ajami in his premonitions, framing each scene with impending tragedy. Moving back and forth through time, different perspectives on events are offered, and only we the audience learn the whole truth in the powder keg final act, which will haunt you long after leaving the cinema.
Directors Copti (who also stars in the film) and Shani cast non-professional actors who were neither allowed to read the script nor given dialogue to say. Instead, they participated in workshops for almost a year until filming began, where each scene was improvised, rendering the performances exceptionally fearless and full of surprise. This manner of collective creation filmmaking results in a socially relevant piece that pulses with life, whose significance reaches far beyond the contested borders of Israel and Palestine.
Indeed, emerging from a Jewish-Palestinian collaboration alone attests to Ajami's timeliness. With five 2009 Israel Film Awards and a Cannes Camera d'Or Special Mention under its belt, it's safe to say the Oscars don't know jack.
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