Jabber (Ghassan Abbas) ekes out a living in the West Bank showing films to fellow refugees. As befits a denizen of a community trying to survive under conditions of poverty and blockade, he cannot seem to make it through the day without facing some crisis or another. When he pleads with the senior official of one camp for payment for his services, he only receives gas money for his jalopy, which is constantly breaking down. His aging 16 mm projector is also constantly in need of repair. The only thing that keeps him going is the giggles of Palestinian children, who watch cartoons from his eclectic library.
His wife Sana (Areen Omary) is part of an ambulance crew that is kept busy by nonstop clashes between the Palestinians and Israeli occupation forces, which are a ubiquitous and menacing presence throughout the film. Both Jabber and Sana are forced to wait on long lines at checkpoints while IDF sentries seem indifferent to his need to keep an appointment with an audience or hers to attend to the sick or wounded. One of the most remarkable things about this altogether remarkable film is the presence of real Israeli soldiers who keep telling the actors that they "cannot pass this way." One suspects that they were addressing the cast members of a film rather than the characters they played, but it makes very little difference in how power relationships are defined in the occupied territories.
Friends and relatives are constantly challenging Jabber: why does he waste his time trying to entertain people who have neither jobs nor security. His father-in-law urges him to move to Canada, where his son has a grocery store that can use another hand. His friend Kamal, an auto mechanic who repairs his jalopy and projector as a favor, urges him to join him as a mechanic in his shop. One might surmise that Jabber is a surrogate for Rashid Masharawi, the Palestinian director of the wrenching but inspiring "Ticket to Jerusalem". When an entire people is struggling to survive, what value does a feature film have? Can it put food on the table, employ them or eliminate the degrading checkpoints and expulsions of an occupying power?
Masharawi was born in a Gaza refugee camp and founded a film production and distribution center in Ramallah. Like Jabber, he had been an itinerant projectionist, because there were virtually no movie theaters in Palestinian areas.
In a profile on Palestinian filmmakers in the Toronto Star (Sept. 12, 2002), fellow director Elia Suleiman, whose "Divine Intervention" was rejected as an Oscar contender because the Academy does not recognize Palestine as a legitimate state, said, "There was a cinema in Ramallah but the Israeli army shot it up and stole the equipment." It adds:
"In the Arab world in general, film-going is uncommon, perhaps because men and women sitting together in the dark is seen as transgressive. There are no films at the festival from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. But Suleiman estimates that there are at least 30 Palestinian filmmakers and videographers at work and the introduction of new digital cameras means that making films will be easier in future."
If the sustained applause heard during the concluding credits of "Ticket to Jerusalem", a film shown as part of the 2003 New Directors/New Films festival, was any indication, Rashid Masharawi was not wasting his time. My only hope is that this film can be released for commercial distribution in the United States, where positive images of the Palestinian people are so hard to come by.
After the film, as I sat eating sushi in a nearby restaurant, I overheard racist comments directed against Arab peoples from people at the next tables who otherwise seemed educated and cosmopolitan. I remarked to my dinner companion that Arabs are perhaps the one ethnic group against whom open displays of bigotry are accepted in polite company.
If "Ticket to Jerusalem" does open up in a theater in your city, make it a point to see it. Not only is it a unique document of everyday Palestinian life, it is superb cinema. In an obscenely wealthy country that has steadily reduced filmmaking to one escapist formula or another, it is ironic that we have to turn to desperate and impoverished Palestine for true art.
Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org
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