Dir. Elia Suleiman (2009, France/Belgium/Italy/UK, 109 mins.)
A little over halfway into The Time That Remains, an ambulance pulls up to a hospital and the paramedics rush their patient inside. While camera remains fixed, a police car pulls up, and the audience watches through the hospital windows as paramedics and police rush about the hospital corridors and vie for control of the patient on the gurney. Guns are pulled after a brief standoff, and the farce continues. This subtle blend of comedy and cruelty has come to define the work of Elia Suleiman, one of the most masterful filmmakers of the Middle East.
One of the most frustrating trends in film today is the assumption that the audience is stupid, which leads to spoon-feeding background information and story to the audience. Suleiman eschews that trend, and the experience is all the more worthwhile for it. A multi-generational narrative is a particularly difficult thing to construct, particularly when it is constructed in a context – in a span of seventy years, from Palestine to Israel – that few people understand. Though the film can be very disorienting, that effect is part of its appeal. At the beginning of the film, the people of Nazareth don’t even know whether they are in Palestine or Israel, so why should the audience?
A counterpoint to the film’s ambiguous and contemplative story is its beautiful cinematography. It is contemplative, haunting,and surreal. The camera is often fixed and the effect is very deliberate. The effect is reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch, or a more surreal (and less hip) Wes Anderson.
Clearly, The Time that Remains is not for everyone. It is a challenging film, demanding a measure of patience and thought atypical in cinema. I expect that the film will be a welcome relief for those who want more from the medium.
(The Time that Remains will by playing as part of the Toronto Palestine Film Festival this week. Tickets can be purchased online, or at the door.)