"Ajami" Movie Review (2010)

4/14/2010 Posted by Admin

Movie Review


Directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, Written by Copti and Shani, 120 Minutes, Not Rated

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

"Ajami" is certainly a labor of love--it took writer and directors Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani 7 years to make, and every minute of effort shows through in the final product. It's epic, it's thrilling, it's funny, it's romantic, and it packs more of an emotional punch than any contemporary tragedy of at least the last few years.

Through five chapters of interconnected tales, we follow Omar, Malek, Dando and Binjook. Omar is struggling to make money to help pay off a crime clan who want his family murdered after his uncle shot and killed one of their enforcers. Malek, an illegal immigrant, has a mother who will die without surgery and will do anything to help pay for her medical bills. Dando is a police officer dealing with the public's general lack of respect for the police force and whose brother has recently gone missing and is feared dead. Binjook works in the same kitchen as Omar and Malek and wants to move out of his family's home to start his own life with his girlfriend, whose Judaism has alienated some of Binjook's friends.

They live and work in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa neighborhood called Ajami, which literally translates as incapable of speech. Appropriately, this small, impoverished neighborhood houses people of many different cultures, and Copti and Shani employed many real people to portray their characters, which brings a great element of realism to the dialogue. The languages go back and forth from Hebrew to Arabic just as people in Ajami would actually speak.

In terms of plot, the film jumps all over the place in time, reintroducing certain plot elements, showing us different perspectives of crucial moments, and altogether making events we've already seen far more powerful as the film goes along. I suppose "Ajami" is best described as a crime film, and as such, it works extremely well, conveying each characters' motivations quite succinctly and effectively for the evils they're forced to do due to poverty, love, or greed.  Also, the several turning points in the film (mostly where each chapter leads into the next) are incredibly intense and occasionally pretty shocking. The few moments of violence are a testament to the idea that less is more, as they aren't particularly graphic but they are very startling in their realism.

"Ajami" also should get credit for just being a great drama. Even the simple emotional scenes between characters are absolutely perfect, and because we get so much time with each character, we can relate with all of them more than one might expect for a film like this. A place that feels so distinctly foreign really doesn't feel too far from home when the characters' conflicts are so much like those we may encounter ourselves. And it's the time spent with the characters that makes the tragedies some of them face all the more powerful.

"Ajami" was one of the five films nominated for Best Foreign Language film this past March, making it the third film nominated from Israel in as many years. A new wave of creative forces, driven by cultural diversity and a desperate need for personal expression in an impersonal time, is coming from the country, and I have a feeling films like "Ajami," a true masterwork, are just the tip of the iceberg.

Grade: A+

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