Elia Suleiman's film The Time That Remains is a masterly drawing from his father's memoirs,sketching out in fragmented vignettes of brilliantly composed tableaux and dead-pan episodes of humour the pain of Palestinians(here"Arab-Israeli's")living under occupation in Nazareth, from 1948 to the present.The spirit of Tati and Keaton reign supreme.This is not a blow-by-blow account but a microcosm of noises-off,of mini-theatrical happenings, especially in the personal slant on his family.Scenes have been shot where events took place.
We rarely think about ordinary life under occupation or the culture shock of suddenly finding yourself living in an Israeli-conquered town for Palestinian Arabs.With the precision and verve of silent comedy,Suleiman rearranges the chaos of reality into aesthetic order,patterns of inter-related harmonies, through translation into cinematic moments,language.The film is structured into 4 parts after a prologue of Suleiman's visitation of his widowed mother, the drive from airport to Nazareth,an existential void,following the fall-out of 1948,hence'getting lost'.
1948 is the Big Bang for the Palestinian people.The Mayor of Nazareth signs an unconditional surrender of Nazareth to the Israeli troops.Palestinian soldiers flee throwing off their keffiyehs.This historic starting point allows Suleiman to voyage around his father,Fuad's(Saleh Bakri) life.One very powerful scene when after capture,he is blind-folded and made to kneel in an olive grove full of other detainees.We get rustling leaves,crickets,birdsong, breezes,the beauty of Palestine's landscape,but a gun to his head and a count to ten.The title is a warning.
Many of his family have departed for Amman.In the 1970s Fuad has high blood pressure,a bad chest,Elia at school, being chastised for calling the Americans `imperialists'.A mad neighbour continually douses himself with petrol to protest the hard conditions of life to be rescued by Fuad.Israeli children sing colonialist songs. Israeli patrols question Fuad's night-fishing,repeatedly,until they arrest him at home for `smuggling arms'.There are tender family memories,a communicating neighbourhood,full of anecdotes,collections of stories,images of feelings.
In the 80s after open-heart surgery Fuad is off hunting and playing back-gammon.Refuge is piling up through strikes,auntie Olga's sight is deteriorating to comic effect.Prostitutes dress as Israeli soldiers to pullclients. Elia sits around with his mates in cafes when not being threatened with deportation.Protests by Palestinians vs. Israel's annexation of land in Nazareth are met by being shot at by Israeli soldiers.Soldiers tug trolleys in hospital from medics to get wounded people who they suspect.And to the present day,Suleiman is the silent
narrator,the insider-outsider,the `present absentee',sitting around cafes with his old mates.His father is dead. His mum is diabetic and secretly eats ice-cream at night,told off by her home nurse.Elia watches fighting in the streets below between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.A big tank's turret follows a neighbour's movements as he empties his rubbish.A peaceful disco is met by loudspeaker curfews.The insanity of existence is impeccably framed. The most moving scene is when he tends his hospitalized mother.Using humour to hint at the buried stories
that the powerful control with their narrative, to keep that history untold:the displaced,the refugees, the annexations,the settlements.This is better than his last film'Divine Intervention',because it uses the anguish of oppressed people everywhere using ghetto humour,to dislodge the mask of injustice,to make the viewer feel with all senses the powerful tool that cinema is to forge new identities,through pleasure and coherence.We are not just telling history,but from the stones up we are reliving the tragedy of a people.Cinema of eloquent humanity.