Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Amreeka: Fresh Off The Boat

Melbourne International Film Festival

Amreeka presents the experiences of Palestinians living in the West Bank and those who migrate to the United States. The word is Arabic for America. It’s about their everyday lives rather than the political situation, though this dictates many aspects of their existence at home and abroad. The impact of 9/11 on work, school, family relationships and normal social interactions underlies this very human story.

Two sisters from Bethlehem of all places are reunited in Illinois: Muna (Nisreen Faour) the optimist who wants a better life for her 16 year old son Fadi (Melkar Muallem) and Raghda (Hiam Abbass) the hardened pessimist who wants her husband Nabeel (Yussuf Abu-Warda) to take them back to Palestine.

Adjusting to American culture is hard enough without the added burdens of prejudice against migrants and the anti-Arab feelings generated by the war on terrorism.

In many ways writer/director Cherien Dabis has created a soft-sell movie. It’s about understanding not retribution and it's executed with lots of humour. We do not see the worst of the occupation. It mostly presents the small humiliations and day-to-day abuse of their rights.

The wall dominates their lives. Its graffiti calls not too subtly to the audience: “ICH BIN EIN BERLINER!” and “BEEN THERE DONE THAT!”

Of course, the anti-Islamic feelings are misdirected as Muna’s family are not Muslims. This is not the first use of this trite device in a film about Middle Eastern migrants. Among others the Lebanese in The Combination are Christians but experience the same kind of racial profiling.

The first two people to befriend Muna are outsiders themselves. Her workmate Matt (Brodie Sanderson) is a high school dropout. Mr. Novatski (Joseph Ziegler), a teacher from Fadi’s school, is a Polish American Jew.

The rest of Muna’s extended family are well portrayed by the strong cast including her three nieces Salma (Alia Shawkat), Rana (Jenna Kawar) and Lamis (Selena Haddad) and her mother.

Amreeka is a gentle persuader that is well worth seeing.

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