The First Annual Toronto Palestine Film Festival
The Olive Harvest
Directed by Hanna Elias
With its pervadingly melodramatic and amateurish atmosphere, The Olive Harvest ultimately comes off as an unusually tedious endeavor that seems as though it'd be more at home on daytime television. Writer/director Hanna Elias' decision to place the emphasis on egregiously trashy elements ensures that the film possesses all the complexity of a garden-variety soap opera, with the uniformly ineffective performances certainly cementing the underwhelming vibe. The movie opens with the release of a Palestinian (Mazen Saade's Mazen) from an Israeli prison after a 15-year stretch, with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently revolving around the love triangle that forms between Mazen, his brother (Taher Najeeb's Taher), and a beautiful olive farmer (Raida Adon's Raeda). Elias' efforts at detailing the day-to-day lives of The Olive Harvest's various characters generally fall flat, as the filmmaker proves unable to infuse the proceedings with even a modicum of authenticity. The movie has instead been infused with a series of increasingly simplistic sequences and interludes that will leave even the most docile viewer rolling their eyes, with the laughable finale - in which Taher airs out his grievances by verbally berating a tree - effectively rendering the emotional pay-off that Elias is clearly striving for moot and ensuring that the whole thing ends on as underwhelming and anti-climactic a note as one could possibly imagine. The inclusion of several other overwrought subplots - ie the estranged father and daughter whose bond is strengthened after he's diagnosed with terminal cancer - secures The Olive Harvest's place as an entirely wrong-headed piece of work, and it goes without saying that the movie seems particularly out of place within the setting of a film festival.
Salt of This Sea
Directed by Annemarie Jacir
It's ultimately impossible to view Salt of This Sea as anything other than a well-intentioned misfire, as filmmaker Annemarie Jacir's decision to stress increasingly heavy-handed elements certainly proves effective in seriously testing the viewer's patience. The movie follows American Arab Soraya (Suheir Hammad) as she travels to Israel in an effort to get in touch with her Palestinian roots, with her free-wheeling escapades eventually bringing her into contact with a down-on-his-luck local (Saleh Bakr's Emad). After learning that her grandfather's bank account was frozen in 1948, Soraya - along with Emad and his friend Marwan (Riyad Ideis) - concocts a plan to forcefully take back what she feels is rightfully hers. Writer/director Jacir does a superb job of drawing the viewer into the proceedings right from the get-go, as the movie opens with a fascinating sequence in which Soraya is questioned and harassed by Israeli border officials immediately after arriving in the country. The subsequent inclusion of several thoroughly striking interludes - ie Emad is stopped by the military and forced to strip in the middle of the road - initially sustains one's interest through the film's increasingly free-wheeling and downright aimless midsection, while Hammad does a nice job of transforming her touchy character into a relatively sympathetic figure. There reaches a point, however, at which Jacir ditches the affable tone and begins emphasizing elements of a decidedly melodramatic nature, with Soraya's newfound militant attitude towards her homeland resulting in a series of hopelessly less-than-subtle sequences (ie Soraya, while visiting her grandfather's childhood home, becomes so overcome that she throws up and angrily demands the Jewish occupant vacate the premises). Jacir's in-your-face treatment of the film's admittedly relevant subject matter is lamentable, as the emotional impact that she's clearly striving for is inevitably lost beneath the weight of her increasingly intrusive personal agenda.