The Time that Remains [Le Temps qu’il Reste] (2009)

(On DVD, October 2010) What an odd, odd film.  It starts by tackling a subject from a perspective unfamiliar to most western viewers: The occupation of Palestine during the 1948 foundation of Israel, and the life of Palestinians ever since as seen by the Palestinians themselves.  Writer/director Elia Suleiman chooses to divide his film in four distinct periods (1948, 1970s, 1980s and 2000s), following a family in attempting to describe the impact of Israeli rule over Palestinian culture.  By the last period, the last links to the past are dying, people can’t get out of their houses without a tank tracking their every movement and criminals are leading the police around.  It’s fiercely political, but in a way that shies away from outright confrontation: The Time that Remains rather adopts a curiously comic tone that defies description.  There are enough stylistic choices here to fill a much lengthier review, but the two that stand out the most are the obstinately static camera and Suleiman’s absurdly one-note performance as a silent man constantly stuck in the same body language.  There is little here in terms of conventional movie-going enjoyment: The rhythm of the film is mortally slow (something that the fixed camera doesn’t soften), the comedy refers on cultural references that feel completely lost in translation, and the off-beat script means never having any idea how to react to the film.  But it does have a lot to say, even though you may need to trawl smarter people’s reviews of the film to figure them out.  It is, in other words, quite an experience: I don’t think there’s any film quite like it, and that’s already a divisive recommendation in itself.  The Region-2 French DVD features an equally-mystifying short film and an interview that gives a glimpse in Suleiman’s artistic process.  (Note that the film’s production origins are a hodgepodge of financing and production companies: I’m not sure what the real title or country of origin of the film actually is, and have tagged it as an English-titled film from Israel as an ironic convenience.)

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