Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Film review of When I Saw You

When I Saw You, a 1.5 hour film by Palestinian independent filmmaker Annemarie Jacir, has been running several times a day throughout Ramadan in Abu Dhabi's Marina VOX theatres. The film is set in what looks to be the sixties or seventies, as Palestinian refugees continue to pour into camps in the surrounding Arab countries, and focuses on the story of a boy named Tarek, living in one of the camps.

Tarek, feeling suffocated by his mother, runs away from the camp to look for his missing father, soon finding his unique observational skills useful in a nearby multiracial coed camp of fedayeen led by an openly Maoist commanderMilitary strikes by both sides in the conflict take place off-screen only, so it's more of a barracks drama. The fedayeen camp is located in a forest, making for a good visual backdrop, and the film has a good cinematic quality. The couple of fireside acoustic songs do well for the soundtrack too. A single scene set beyond either of these locations, in which Tarek encounters prejudice and pity from some locals, introduces some more context about the refugee experience.

The tension between the independence-seeking son and the protective, weary mother drives the plot, while crises, friendships and power struggles in both camps provide dramatic punctuation now and then. I found Tarek's stubbornness to be quite annoying at times, but his pluck and talent made him endearing at others. An apolitical character, he is primarily driven by the search for "home", even after finding camaraderie and respect among the fedayeen. The film also has a number of humorous/cute moments, and an interesting surprise ending.

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