The Second Annual Toronto Palestine Film Festival
To My Father
An amateurish, nigh interminable documentary, To My Father is essentially a collection of still photographs accompanied by filmmaker Abdelsalam Shehadeh's almost eye-rollingly pompous narration - with the inclusion of a few laughable reenactments periodically breaking up the proceedings' PowerPoint-presentation vibe. Shehadeh's unwillingness (or inability) to offer up a reason for the viewer to care about any of this ensures that To My Father comes off as an entirely irrelevant endeavor virtually from minute one, and it's ultimately clear that the director's muddled modus operandi plays a significant role in the movie's massive downfall (ie what's the point of all this, exactly?) The home-movie atmosphere is undoubtedly exacerbated by Shehadeh's reliance on head-scratching instances of narration, as the film has been jam-packed with baffling lines like, "there was shadow in the photo, which gives dimensions for us to sense the place and its beauty, and we feel as if we're going inside it." (What?) And although the movie does improve slightly as it progresses - Shehadeh slowly-but-surely takes the emphasis off the photographs and instead presents video of various conflicts from within Israel's borders - To My Father is primarily a tedious piece of work that has exceedingly little of value to say about the ongoing battle between Arabs and Jews.
PALESTINE/TUNISIA/THE NETHERLANDS/71 MINUTES
Written and directed by Rashid Masharawi, Laila's Birthday details a chaotic day in the life of Palestinian taxi driver Abu Laila (Mohammed Bakri) - with his various misadventures on the streets of the West Bank effectively forming the bulk of the proceedings. The extreme deliberateness with which Masharawi has infused Laila's Birthday ensures that it does take an awfully long time to get going, and it's ultimately clear that the film is at its best during its offbeat, almost surreal midsection (ie Abu Laila encounters a group of people lining up solely because there's a line-up). Masharawi's pervasively episodic modus operandi plays a fairly significant role in the film's all-too-brief success, as it becomes more and more difficult to resist the darkly comedic bent of Abu Laila's run-ins with a myriad of off-kiler figures. And although the movie runs a scant 71 minutes (66 without credits), Laila's Birthday is simply unable to sustain the viewer's interest all the way through to its appreciatively low-key conclusion - as the unapologetically aimless sensibilities of Masharawi's screenplay become increasingly tough to take (with Bakri relentlessly deadpan performance exacerbating the film's problems). The inclusion of a head-scratchingly heavy-handed diatribe within the movie's closing minutes cements Laila's Birthday's place as a promising yet unfulfilling endeavor, which is particularly disappointing given the relatively underwhelming nature of the majority of features from Palestinian filmmakers.