(Crown-May 18, 2010)


Maybe I let my concentration slip for a second while watching the film, but I don’t think so. I think that the director’s of “Ajami” crafted a tale so well put together, that the effect it had on me was intentional.

About a third of the way into the movie, we are introduced to a character named Dando, who is an Israeli police officer. I find myself thinking, “Dando, Dando, Dando…” that sounds familiar.

Cut to the climax of the film. I have an “Oh, shit” moment a few moments before the shit hits the fan. Everything has come together and information that has been supplied honestly and accurately to the audience comes to head. It’s like the con men will tell you, “put it right in front of there eyes.”

It made me think of a much more honest version of the trick played in Dario Argento’s “Profondo Rosso,” in which the title character (and in a way, us) have witnessed the identity of a murderer all along, and we work to recall it. To be fair, that film dealt a lot with memory and recollection.

“Ajami” on the other hand is a film told in disparate chapters, which cut back in forth and time and do what Tarantino made famous in “Pulp Fiction:” kill a character off in one scene, only to bring him back later on for a chapter that takes place earlier in the chronology of the story.

Now, where “Ajami” may in fact one-up the great “Pulp Fiction” (I say great, because I don’t even want to begin making this a which is better deal… “Pulp” has long ago entered the echelon of true classics) is that even as it plays with life and death like the Zapruder film on rewind, it uses it to make each tragedy resonate all the more. No dead character gets to leave the movie dressed funnily with a book tucked into their pants and the fact that they will soon get shot brutally in the bathroom a bit later erased from everybody’s mind.

I’ll admit it took me a while to appreciate this picture’s structure. For the first half of the film, I thought it was playing time in a way to be hip and cool, as well as to get away with discarding characters for shock value.  But no, by the time everything gets wrapped up, the film is very powerful due to its disjointed structure. And I don’t believe it is haphazard, or to be convenient. Rather, the directors brilliantly allow us to be with a variety of different characters and discover things as they do—which is crazy and awesome for an ensemble picture to do. Watch the film and realize how the structure allows and forces you to, at that particular time relate to a certain character. It is truly impressive, and makes a case for this kind of storytelling in bold letters.

It isn’t for any political reason that I have avoided discussing the politically heated nature of this picture. It deals with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in ways big and small. It has two directors, one a Palestinian and one an Israelite. It was Israel’s nomination for the Oscars Foreign Language Film category, and the Palestinian director declared he wasn’t there to represent Israeli (even as he went on their dime, with their film). There is a lot to be said there, but I don’t say it, simply because the film, as a story, and as a technical achievement, is quite brilliant. And can stand on its own. And I love that. Whatever side of the coin you find yourself on.

NOTE: “Ajami” says it is shot on 35mm online, but seems to be clearly a prosumer grade digital video. In any event, one quickly loses the notion of a cheaply indie or student shot film, due to the mastery of storytelling as well as the storytelling itself. It is good for filmmakers to note what can be forgiven or forgotten if you suck them in early.

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