Originally posted on MyDylarama: www.mydylarama.org.uk/Road-to-Palestine-1985-dir-Layaly-Badr-and-Upper-Gate-1991-dir-Arab-Loutfi
The London Palestine Film Festival’s ‘Women of the Revolution’ event featured two films from female directors – both grainy but politically vital insights into the plight of Palestinians in the 1980s.
The first, Layaly Badr’s Road to Palestine, served as a dark short with a long message – one of deep-rooted resistance and tragic injustices, a tale of Palestine’s reality for decades. The film, as a cartoon, burdens stick figures with the results of conflict and oppression, in the setting of a Palestinian refugee camp. As Badr expanded in the Q&A after the film, the drawings were actually created by European children after hearing the story of airstrikes on these camps; thus the animation is purposely childlike in its style and reaction to the horror. The danger present in the short is accentuated through dark colours, the sound of beating drums and an almost psychedelic, disjointed animation style which brings an intriguing innocence to the whole film, as it deals with such a heavy subject.
A heart-breaking point was made by the director; her film was an actual articulation of a 7-year-old Palestinian refugee’s account of an airstrike on her camp, who described the bombs as ‘balloons from the sky’. Again, the grim spectre of innocence in the face of the horror of war is blatant. Ultimately, the film points toward the sad reality that work and struggle are unbreakable bonds in Palestinian existence, and hints at how kids grow up early in prison camps due to being forced to confront the reality that ‘struggle is our only way to Palestine’.
The second film featured beautiful archival footage of interviews with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, peppered with the marks of time and, possibly, clandestine transportation. Arab Loutfi’s Upper Gate shows real people, real lives affected by the occupation of Sidon in southern Lebanon. The diverse figures interviewed have many informative stories to tell; tragic, yes, but also at times humorous, blunt or meandering. As one interviewee expands, their position as refugees in another country left them stigmatised but the pride of their homeland never wavered, it is part of their constant psychological resistance to occupation.
The film fluctuates between soothing voices, blotchy images and tales of tragedy and struggle. Though the interviews are of immense historical value, the diversity of points being made and the confusion of the conflicts they discuss often leaves one lost – a guiding narrative would’ve assisted greatly, though given the restrictions of the time, budget and otherwise, it is understandable why the dialogues are just presented as ‘raw’. Still, Loutfi managed to create an introspective piece featuring tranquil footage, of the sea or people laughing together, that contrasts seamlessly to descriptions of the brutality of the war.
Both these passionate female directors deserve recognition for what they achieved at a very politically dangerous and hostile time. As Loutfi articulated in an inspiring video testimony, ‘filmmaking is an expression and defiance against erasure of Palestinian identity.’
Originally published on MyDylarama: www.mydylarama.org.uk/It-Must-Be-Heaven-by-Elia-Suleiman
The London Palestine Film Festival opened with an expectedly strong, but nonetheless captivating experience, screening Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven at the Barbican. The film’s protagonist leads a life by observation, with Suleiman playing himself - only presumably more silent and bemused. His quizzical looks throughout invite us to view the bizarre events before our eyes with a similar detached penetration, as Suleiman lives day to day in his home country, then to Paris and New York trying to sell his script, before returning to Nazareth. The film makes deft use of sound, or lack thereof in the case of Suleiman’s demeanour, creating a coalition of familiar urban scenes and eerie abandonment. The astute use of sparse sounds – whether that is the rapping on a door or the distant thunder of fireworks evoking bombs – adds a layer of tension throughout, even in scenes which don’t necessitate it.
The story plays out not as a fixed plot but as a series of comical vignettes complete with a silent-film star; short humorous snapshots of oddities loosely threaded into a narrative, with a journey and an ultimate return. Palestine, as a real place but also as the figurative, looms large; perhaps even larger outside of itself, as remnants of occupied life are uncovered in all locations. An over the top Palestinian solidarity meeting in New York and a white executive telling Suleiman that his film is ‘not about Palestine enough’ are highlights of how the imagined ideal – an idea of Palestine - often trumps real, lived experiences, such as those of Palestinian filmmakers who don’t want to make a Western-perspective creation about their homeland.
Though the mini absurdisms, a trend towards social commentary is gleaned – on nationalism, hyper-modernisation, societal repression and censorship – but slightly too often these scenes fall into pure irreverence over biting satire. The humour does, however, work in a way to blur the sense of realism in the film, giving it a dreamlike other-worldly quality that is refreshing – for instance, the emptiness of Paris in particular acts as an exposure, a bare-bones tackling of the police brutality and segregation apparent in the French state. Racial and class relations, especially salient in France, are not put under a microscope by Suileman’s silent stare but perhaps, at least, a bigger lens.
Though fantasy plays a part, the most chilling and memorable scenes bring an underlying, very real terror to the forefront. Outside of Nazareth, two Israeli Defence Forces’ soldiers are shown driving at speed, eyes not on the road but rather into a phone’s screen, as they take multiple selfies in front of their latest capture – a blindfolded young Palestinian girl in the backseat, whose appearance is highly reminiscent of 16-year old activist Ahed Tamini, who gained international attention for videos of her confrontations with Israeli soldiers. The glamorisation of the Israeli authorities’ brand of violence is well-documented in real life, through propagandistic adverts from the IDF on Twitter for example. Scenes like this prove the solace of humour and camaraderie is not always enough to reckon with such modern evil, and they truly bring the film back down to a cold reality.
The final scene is moving beyond words, and acts as a rein to the film’s few excesses, which were never a deal-breaker to its intelligence regardless. Perhaps Suleiman does not go as far as he could in drawing parallels between the oppression of his homeland and the latent authoritarianism of Western societies, but the links are left there for the viewer to connect the dots. After all, Suleiman’s character is but the observer in this film – to go beyond inference is up to us.