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An Arabic tale that takes place in Copenhagen, Denmark. About ancient religious hatred, about love, punishment, guilt and redemption, about being responsible for one's own actions and refusing a path of violence. Jamil stands in the middle. He is fighting the war of his life; a war within himself. Written by
Raw, powerful but somewhat thin in characterization
"Ma Salama Jamil" is a powerful "issue-film" in the vein of "In the Valley of Elah" in a way that it takes a very relevant current problem and attempts to inspect it from many angles - all in the disguise of an edgy thriller. Set in the Muslim community of Copenhagen, it relates the one-day journey of a young Sunni man, Jamil, who kisses good-bye to his small son and wife and goes to murder someone. He does this out of duty, as the murdered man had once killed Jamil's mother. His act triggers a spiral of ruthless violence and ultimately leads to unspeakable tragedy. The plot is basically it - very simple, straightforward and quite predictable. Everything: plotting, characterization and dialogue are secondary to theme and issue. The message is clear: religious antagonisms (in this case Sunni against Shia) are meaningless and violence breeds more violence. This is a theme worth exploring and it has to be expressed, but after a while its repetition gets somewhat annoying as the writers and director hit it home with the subtlety of a suicide bomb. (This is one aspect in which it is very similar to "Elah".) And yet the film works superbly. Despite its predictability, tension is still very high right until the end. Omar Shargawi is an incredibly gifted director and his DoP is similarly skilled. The film looks stunning. Acting is also top notch from Vin Diesel-lookalike Dar Salim in the titular role to the director himself in a small but important role. Shargawi prefers tight shots and quick cuts and hand-held photography reminiscent of Paul Greengrass' work. It heightens drama and adds urgency, on the other hand, gives little sense of where we are. The first indication that the story takes place in a European metropolis comes some 55 minutes into the film with a wide shot of a Copenhagen street. Similarly, we get very little sense of life in a Muslim community in a European city. Beyond the Sunni - Shia antagonism and the violence/revenge theme there is no real feel for how these people really live. As there are hints at an endlessly fascinating community, I felt disappointed it was not explored further. All in all, a great film, a superb debut for Shargawi which could have perhaps profited from deeper characterization and going beyond its main themes. I am looking forward to the writer/director's next project.
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