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The Time that Remains: Quirky, Dark Comedy on Palestinian Conflict
A lot has been said about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The issue has dominated the news ever since the State of Israel was created. Endless documentaries have been shot, some highlighting the Jewish perspective, others highlighting the Palestinian side. Christian Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman’s The Time that Remains focuses on the daily lives of residents in Nazareth from 1948 till the present day with a cynical yet hilarious twist.
The story starts on a stormy night at Tel Aviv Airport, where main character Elia (also referred to as Es throughout the film) arrives on a flight and takes a taxi back home. His Jewish taxi driver complains about the country’s current political situation. The weather gets worse, leading the driver down the wrong route. The driver looks to Elia for directions, but gets nothing; throughout the whole film, Elia’s character doesn’t say a word.
From then on, the film flashbacks to 1948 as Israeli soldiers invade Palestinian homes, and then a flash forward to the sixties, as Elia and his family struggle to cope with the conflict, before returning to the present. At each point, the film presents hilariously absurd plotlines, such as Elia and his Palestinian choir winning a competition by singing patriotic Israeli songs in the sixties.
Most of the film was shot outdoors because the country’s landscape makes a perfect background on its own. The characters gradually age and develop very realistically. The best performance is by Saleh Bakry as Elia’s father. He is the strong, silent type who tries to raise his family and live life as normal as possible. As the lead, Elia’s silence might represent some Palestinians’ enforced passiveness in the conflict.
Stylistically, the film seems very similar to Wes Andersen films such as the Royal Tenenbaums. It relies more on facial expressions than it does on dialogue, and the humour is very dry and subtle. Suleiman often uses long stationary shots, and relies on complex compositions, using people as props at times.
The plot is character-driven. It follows the growth of the family throughout the events. The film doesn’t really focus on the political situation and its development as much as it does on the characters adapting to their circumstances.
The soundtrack is excellent and adds to the film’s hilarity, such as the scene where a character is dying while ‘My Heart Will Go On’ plays in the background. The film closes with three young Palestinians sitting on a bench outside as ‘Staying Alive’ starts playing. The overall message seems to be that there is nothing more you can do except staying alive while living in an absurd world.
The Time That Remains is an excellent art house film that brings a quirky and hilarious perspective to the Palestinian conflict in a Fellini-like way. Be sure to watch this DVD.
They would try anything as if they had no fear of failure. They weren’t afraid of screwing up because the process and the act of creation were the important parts; if the product ended up sucking it was no big deal because they’d already be at work on the next piece. At least that’s the vibe that the documentary gives off. It also helps that the modern day, grown-up No Wavers seem every bit as cool as they did back then.
Based on writer Alan Bennett’s 1989 memoir, the ‘mostly true’ story of one Margaret Shepherd - an eccentric homeless woman who back in the mid-70’s decided to set up camp in Bennett’s North London driveway and stay there for fifteen years - is beautifully told in Nicholas Hytner’s The Lady in the Van; a humorous and touching tale of an unusual friendship brought to life by an engaging script and one deliciously weird and quirky performance by the forever-great Dame Maggie Smith.
Adapted to the screen by Bennett himself – his story was initially turned into a book back in 1989 before taking up stage in London’s West End in 1999 - The Lady in the Van begins by introducing Alan Bennett (Jennings); a witty, dry and a seemingly withdrawn playwright who has just moved in to his new home in Camden, London. Thanks to camera trickery, there are two versions of the writer to be witnessed here; one is Bennett the man – a shy and a reserved fellow who deals with the outside world – and Bennett the writer; someone who sits, writes and complains about the lack of intrigue and excitement in their somewhat boring and complicated co-existence.
Things take an interesting turn with the appearance of Miss. Shepherd (Smith); a strange, smelly and a particularly single-minded drifter who lives out of the back of a van. After not being able to park her van out on the street anymore, Miss. Shepherd – whose unconventional characteristics have already ignited an interest in the writer – turns to Bennett for help. Taking pity on the poor old lady, he soon agrees for her to temporarily use his driveway which, as it turns out, she stayed on for fifteen years.
It’s easy to recognise The Lady in the Van’s theatrical roots with the movie bearing a somewhat of an artificial and at times, a distractingly stagey feel. However, that should not pose as a problem with the magnificent Maggie Smith at play, whose performance is so engaging that it’s easy to forgive the film’s tiny drawbacks. Reprising her acclaimed stage performance, Smith is absolutely superb as the wandering oldster whose mysterious past involving a hit-and-run – something that serves as the major subplot in the story – has led her to where she is today. Her interaction with Bennett – a pleasantly reliable Jennings - is where the story’s heart lies and it’s his never-ending curiosity about his particularly strange squatter that ends up slowly unravelling the mystery behind her suffering existence.
Staying clear of unnecessary melodrama and over-sentimentalising its subject, The Lady in the Van is all about Smith’s turn and, while its peculiar set up may not appeal to everyone’s taste, it’s hard to imagine anyone not being taken in by this 80 year old actress’ immense talent and her incredible ability of commanding the screen.