Marcel Hartmann/IFC Films
Strangers In A Familiar Land: Fuad (Saleh Bakri, right), Mother (Samar Qudha Tanus) and their son Elia (Suhair Abu Hanna) are among the Arab families who remain in Nazareth after the city becomes part of Israel in 1948.
Strangers In A Familiar Land: Fuad (Saleh Bakri, right), Mother (Samar Qudha Tanus) and their son Elia (Suhair Abu Hanna) are among the Arab families who remain in Nazareth after the city becomes part of Israel in 1948. Marcel Hartmann/IFC Films
The Time That Remains
- Director: Elia Suleiman
- Genre: Drama, Bleak Comedy
- Running Time: 109 minutes
With: Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri, Yasmine Haj, Leila Muammar
The subtitle of Elia Suleiman's The Time That Remains is "Chronicle of a Present Absentee." That absentee is Suleiman himself, who stars in the last section of this blackly comic, four-part look at the lives of Arabs living in Israel over the past half-century. He inhabits a character much like those he plays in his first two features, Chronicle of a Disappearance and Divine Intervention. That character, credited simply as E.S. (though he's called Elia in the film), is a semiautobiographical version of the director; he speaks no words during his time onscreen, and his silence lends the character a kind of invisibility that seems meant as an analogy to his view of the Arab presence in Israel. He's present, yet absent.
Suleiman structures the film around one Nazareth family as they learn to live in Israel following the Israeli-Arab War of 1948. Each of the first three sections of the film coincides with a historical event: The first takes place just as Nazareth surrenders to Israeli forces near the end of the war; the second in the fall of 1970, around the death of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser; and the third in March of 1980, during the fourth anniversary of Land Day, a widespread protest against Israeli land policy that is commemorated to this day.
Throughout the first half of the film, most of the attention is on Fuad (Saleh Bakri), a rebellious young gun-maker who assists the Arab war effort. The humor here is dark, but maintains an air of realism. As the film moves into its brief third section, the focus shifts to his now teenage son Elia (Ayman Espanioli), while the jokes begin taking an absurdist turn: In one scene, soldiers and hospital staff chase each other down a long hallway in a slapstick fight over a wounded protester on a gurney.
Marcel Hartmann/IFC Films
Born in Nazareth in 1960, writer-director Elia Suleiman lived in New York from 1982 to 1993; he won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize in 2002 for his feature film Divine Intervention.
Born in Nazareth in 1960, writer-director Elia Suleiman lived in New York from 1982 to 1993; he won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize in 2002 for his feature film Divine Intervention. Marcel Hartmann/IFC Films
The film grows stronger as its attachment to reality breaks down. The symbolism in the earlier portions of the film can feel overstated: In one scene, an Israeli cabbie gets lost in an Arab neighborhood during a thunderstorm, and as he pulls over, visibly upset, he laments, "How do I get home? Where am I?"
But when Suleiman enters the frame in the fourth and final section, the film becomes both more subtle and more impenetrably absurd. The actor-director has long drawn comparisons to Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati, and that's as apt as ever: He has the sad yet sharp eyes of the former, the surreal deadpan of the latter. The Nazareth he returns to seems foreign to him, and the odd things he sees straddle the border between reality and fantasy. In one particularly inspired bit of dark humor, a tank pulls up outside a home, the barrel keeping close aim on a resident's head as he crosses the street to take out the trash, oblivious to the artillery 10 feet away. The sequence has little to do with what plot there is to the film, but neither do many of the oddly comic set pieces. Yet they all combine to form the singular, darkly whimsical fabric of the thing.
Suleiman is unambiguous on only one point: his own feelings regarding the Israeli presence in the land of his birth. He's spent three features now figuring out the complex and evolving identity of the Arabs who remain. The Time That Remains doesn't come to many conclusions, but watching Suleiman's idiosyncratic, inventive approach to the questions, you can't help but hope he continues to ask them.