Ajami Scandar Copti & Yaron Shani

Ajami Scandar Copti & Yaron Shani
In the sole special feature on the DVD for Ajami, "The Story of the Actors," they discuss the novelty of hiring non-professional performers and the supposed authenticity they bring to the film like it's something new. Given that just about every movie from that part of the world of late uses this exact same technique in a misguided attempt at gritty realism, the true novelty would be if they had hired actual actors and put in the effort of thinking about each scene, rather than "letting the moment guide itself." Perhaps there is some intended benefit to having actors sit around slack-jawed, not reacting to each other logically, but since this isn't an exercise in Brechtian subterfuge or contrary narrative techniques, I think it unlikely. In fact, this is a tale of overwhelming contrivance, weaving together several narrative threads over five chapters, telling the stories of illegal workers, criminals and police in Israel's Ajami neighbourhood. Malek (Ibrahim Frege) is willing to do anything to help pay for his sick mother's operation, while Nasri (Fouad Habash) needs money to protect his family from a revenge killing. Of course, the police, depicted mainly by Dando Ben David (Eran Naim), see only unreasonable criminals and profile by race. There is a bit of fuss about religious and racial conflicts, with Jews, Muslims and Christians each feeling superior to one another, along with some recreational drug usage for edgy measure. It's all incredibly heavy-handed and dreadfully glib, asking us to "open our eyes" despite making the audience watch criminals blame society for two hours. That said, a tendency to break narrative silence with unexpected acts of violence and flipping the story through time from different perspectives keep this mostly redundant political allegory vital and curious for most of its runtime. It's just a shame that there weren't more nuances in character aside from archetypal blandness. It's also unfortunate that the film preaches perspective and understanding while hypocritically remaining lopsided in its stance. (Mongrel Media)