Ajami, the Israeli film at the Oscars

July 5, 2010 by

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A few thoughts about Ajami, Israel’s latest (unsuccessful) candidate for Best Foreign film at the Oscars.

Copti, the Arab half of the directing partnership, denied that he was representing Israel, despite the film having received extremely generous Israeli government funding.

I’m struck by three things. First off, I’ve never heard any Oscar winner proclaim that he or she was representing their country. We’re talking artists, here, not Olympic high-jumpers. Can’t remember even Clint Eastwood claiming an Oscar on behalf of the USA.

Second, I don’t remember anyone asking Ari Folman, director of Waltz with Bashir (last year’s near miss), if he represented Israel. My bet is that if he’d been asked, he also would have denied ‘representative’ status. His film is stunning, but Folman’s endless insistence that it was ‘universal’ always struck me as too much wishful thinking.

Last point on Copti’s comments. The Israeli news here very rarely showed the actual footage of his ‘disavowal’. I saw it only once. He was caught on the sidewalk, and (to my eye) was extremely civil, softly spoken, and in no way soap-boxing. When he explained that he could not represent Israel because Israel did not represent him, he had a gentle apologetic, almost embarrassed smile on his face. He was trying to be heard.

As for the film itself, similar to the plays of Bertold Brecht, we may rejoice that the artistry of the creators of this agonizingly moving film entirely defeats their stated political purpose. Ajami is a beautifully acted, ingeniously scripted complex tragedy. It is – unlike Beaufort and Waltz with Bashir – not at all critical of Israel.

Every horror and act of violence committed in Ajami (and there are many) emerge from human pain and love.

The film is a wonderful example of how Peace in this region needs some redefinition. In a skewed, tragic way, every character in the movie is trying to make peace. It’s just that each one of them has a different, opposing definition of what peace means and how it may be achieved.

And if that doesn’t make it a film to represent Israel, I don’t know what does.

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