Israel's Oscar-nominated Ajami is a crime drama that transcends race, religion or nationality.
Divided into chapters told in Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles, the film is as impressive as a piece of cinema as it is a political statement. An Israeli film co-produced by Germans, it was directed by Yaron Shani, an Israeli Jew, and Scandor Copti, a Palestinian. In 2002 Shani and Copti set out to make the film as a testament to the relationship their communities could have. Every decision during the entire process had to be mutually agreed upon by both men. Sometimes they'd stay locked in a room for three days fighting about a single scene before they came to an understanding.
What was eventually wrought is a tangled web of crime and punishment set in the Israeli city of Jaffe and the Ajami neighborhood where Jews, Muslims and Christians live in tense and teetering balance.
Shot in sequence, using real locations and untrained non-actors, the film's realism is at times almost too much to bear, but that tangibility is exactly what makes it unshakably memorable. Chaos descends without warning, dialogue overlaps, the camera tracks characters like eyes peering out from around corners, and violence is unceremoniously delivered. The brutality is jarring, sudden, without sentiment or warning, punctuated only by the sounds of sirens, weeping or stomach churning silence.
Filled with scenes of universal understanding; family arguments, bath time, a communal dinner table, these are familiar slices of life that illustrate just how much human beings share, making the hatred and distrust that exists in the world, and especially the Middle East, seem absurdly inhumane. Tragic, bleak, intimate and gripping, "Ajami" isn't an easy film to watch but that's part of its unflinching beauty. After all, life isn't easy.