Thursday, January 6, 2011

Elia Suleiman's THE TIME THAT REMAINS is one of this year's -- and last's --best films

TrustMovies is sorry that Elia Suleiman's newest movie, THE TIME THAT REMAINS -- which made its debut at the 2009 Cannes and Toronto film fests -- is only now opening theatrically in the USA.  "Now" being but a week too late to qualify as one of last year's films -- as which, it would have appeared on a num-ber of "best lists," mine included. I say this, as someone who loathed Suleiman's earlier film Divine Intervention. (Click this link to connect with my Greencine post about that 2002 movie.) Now, however, I believe that, had I seen that earlier film after I'd watched his new one, I'd have been much more appreciative.

The reason is this: To view Divine Intervention with no understanding of this filmmaker (he's pictured at left), his history or his work is to be set adrift on the sea with neither compass nor paddle. Consequently, DI becomes a WTF movie. With The Time That Remains, however, we absolutely know where we are: in a family history that also becomes a  history of Palestine. We meet characters whom we watch age and grow (or not) and whom we grow to love in all their sadness, humor and near- suspended-animation. For they are Palestinian: non-citizens in the eyes and minds of their Israeli keepers, who, at their best, are mildly threatening and disinterested, and at their worst, possibly fatal.

The Time That Remains is both a provocation and a concession to the Israeli occupation. Done with knowing humor and satire that often seems deadpan, it is actually much more than that. Among several extraordinary filmmaking techniques, Suleiman uses quiet and stillness in a manner that is exactly right and all his own. In the press material for the film, the director calls silence "...subversive. All governments hate it because it is a weapon of resistance."

Suleiman uses silence as much for humor (which becomes its own kind of resistance) and to point up strange juxtapositions as for anything else. There's a scene during curfew of an Israeli police vehicle outside a club, where, inside, the party-goers are dancing wildly. The combination here of light and dark, noise and quiet is spectacular, offering just one of many memorable moments in this unusual film.

We -- along with Suleiman, who is a kind of silent character/
narrator in his own movie -- follow the history, from 1948 until the present, of the filmmaker's family (a kind of everyfamily), as his father ages from young man to middle age to elderly, and Suleiman himself goes from boy to man. That fine young actor Saleh Bakri (Salt of the Sea, The Band's Visit), shown above, left, and below, right, plays dad in all three time periods, and the particular use that he makes of this quiet and silence is both provocative and wise (not to mention extremely sexy).

The film begins with a shadowy figure taking a cab to... nowhere? The abyss?  (There's a sudden, near-apocalyptic rainstorm.) We don't understand what is happening, but by the time we return to this passenger, we've come to understand the family, the country, who that passenger is and what is going on. In each of his scenes, Suleiman capture the details of the time period -- from clothes and hair styles to the furniture and objects (as in the kitchen above) -- wonderfully well.

The filmmaker is particularly adept at making visual connections, and as The Time That Remains is a kind of memory piece, these connections are vital. Suleiman gives them to us in his own piquant way. Toward the film's beginning, a man is tossed over a wall. Near the end, another man vaults symbolically over a more modern and recognizable wall. You'll make what you will of the meaning of the "surmounting" of these walls and the connection of the two men, but you can't fail to appreciate how the director has melded past to present, while giving us plenty to chew on in the process.

One of the most delicate and delectable movies I've seen in a long while, The Time That Remains is a keeper. It is certainly one of the richest film about the the Palestinian people that I've yet experienced, as well as an indispensable record of the creation of the state of Israel from the Palestinian perspective. (We've had a lot of movies--  from Exodus onwards -- that gave us that experience from the other side.) I want to see this film again, and soon, as well giving Divine Intervention another watch and viewing Suleiman's first film, Chronicle of a Disappearance -- the three of which have now become this filmmaker's trilogy.

The movie, from IFC Films, opens simultaneously in theaters and On-Demand this Friday, January 7. In New York City, it will play at the IFC Center.  Click here to learn how to get the movie via IFC On Demand.

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