Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Eid milad Laila (Laila's Birthday) (2008) (SIFF 2009)

You won't guess who I ran into today, dear

Students of international relations freeze up when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is raised. But naturally: even the United Nations, that force for global peace and reconciliation, is powerless to solve that most shameful and outrageous problem.

We're talking about a state whose existence was guaranteed as a form of blood payment by Europe for its apartheid and genocide of the Jews through the centuries, yet whose existence currently implies the apartheid of Palestinians and the destruction of their own state.

It's enough to drive anyone batty. Yet the beauty of Rashid Masharawi's short feature (weighing in at a restrained 74 mins) is its refusal to hurl itself into the abyss, to gibber mindlessly at the uncaring stars even when it documents, with a slowly ratcheting moral outrage, the hellish everyday life of citizens living in the Gaza.

In a series of vignettes, the film follows the work and travels of judge turned taxi driver Abu Laila on his daughter Laila's birthday. The fares he picks up form the director's investigation of everyday Palestinian life under Israeli state terrorism, Palestinian state corruption, and a populace struggling between madness and sanity, humiliation and dignity, anger and resigned humour.

While refusing to put on rose-tinted glasses, Rashid Masharawi still manages to avoid the typical liberal shrillness of fellow Middle Eastern directors dealing with the same topic (Amos Gitai et al), and eventually finds the sliver of optimism that fuels the continued existence of everyday Palestinians.

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