Starring Fouad Habash, Nisrine Rihan and Elias Saba. Directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani. 120 minutes. 14A
This film is meant to break hearts and honestly, it does. To think that some of the stories in this film are similar to the lives that some people have to live is just sad, which goes to show how well Ajami portrays realism.
Ajami is set in a neighbourhood in Israel of the same name, following a few intertwined narratives that revolve around poverty and violence. Omar (Shahir Kabaha) was the target of a drive-by shooting but escapes when gangsters mistake his neighbour for him instead. A little while back, Omar’s uncle impulsively killed a man, who, turns out, has connections with men went after Omar’s uncle intending to kill him. When they failed to do so, the men went after his family instead, putting Omar, his siblings and mother in danger. However, through negotiation, the gangsters agree to let them go for a heavy sum that is impossible for Omar’s impoverished family to pay off, so Omar seeks alternatives to earning the cash. Meanwhile, Omar’s co-worker 16-year-old Malek is also in need of money to help pay for his sick mother’s surgery. The two come up with a plan to draw some cash but instead end up in a terrible mess.
This film seems so real that it’s almost like a very well-polished documentary. Stories are so detailed, connected and believable that this could very well be the re-telling of a true story, and it’s clear that realism is exactly what directors Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani were trying to achieve. Of course aside from beautiful–yet horrifying–storytelling, the setting and array of unknown faces help to bring the film to life. When you aren’t yet familiar with an actor, it’s as if he may actually be that poor, little boy living in Ajami.
Ajami also has great pacing. A lot of the times, stories based on true conflict or history-in-the-making seem very lethargic. They often seem to heavily drag through their runtime, dwelling on over-scripted dialogue and scenes. Ajami feels neither sluggish nor rushed. Each scene, each line seems deliberately timed just enough to keep the film rolling at a steady pace, pulling the viewer through the rich narrative.
And clearly, narrative is the strongest point in this film. Although little is actually poorly done, it’s the narrative that drives the entire film. Since this film didn’t take the win for Best Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards last year, then the film that won must have seriously been a hell-of-a-hurricane blow away. A-
EXTRAS: Featurette interviewing the actors, deleted scenes, stills gallery and theatrical trailer