The Time that Remains: Quirky, Dark Comedy on Palestinian Conflict
Ali SulimanElia Suleiman...
Anne de Groot
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