Film review By Razanne Carmey
Love Theft and other entanglements 2015
London Premier at Barbican Cinema for East End Film Festival 8th July 2015
Written and directed: Muayad Alayan, Rami Alayan
For Palcine Productions
It is a brave filmmaker who opens with an extended close up of a small pile of cement, grey, rough, ungiving, but this is how Muayad Alayan sets the tone for his unusual comedy, Love Theft and Other Entanglements. Shot in black and white, it makes no concession for the lovely Palestinian landscape; there are no lush olive groves here, no haunting call to prayer only the muted grey wasteland of a slow quiet despair. This is filmmaker Alayan’s visual expression of what people feel in Palestine today. Another brave departure from making the kind of film that the international aid agenda demands of Palestinian filmmakers.
The Palestine of Love Theft and Other Entanglements is a place where conviction is invisible and optimism is entirely absent; the only successful trade is in selling out, the only ambition is for a chance to walk out.
A rare hope comes from news of a kidnapped Israeli soldier (a fine Riyad Sliman). The possibility of exchanging him for 300 Palestinian political prisoners excites everyone even a blind old woman living alone who wants her radio repaired just to hear the news of the exchange. The entire Palestinian cause has dwindled to such small objectives. Sadly, this new hope is soon derailed because the kidnapped soldier has been ‘mislaid’ and is now in the unqualified – and very surprised – hands of a car thief.
Yet Alayan handles the bleak material with a light touch and a keen sense of irony. He also has a deft hand keeping the action fast and the jazzy soundtrack faster while slowly building up to the gentle humour of an absurd hostage situation within a more absurd political situation. When an EU funding official asks “Do you believe in peace?” the Palestinian in the film struggles to make sense of the irrelevant question then opts for the standard answer while the cinema audience laughed out loud. But this is about more than black comedy. It’s saying something serious to the world, especially the part of it likely to watch a Palestinian film to show its solidarity, the part that pays for aid but wants to set the agenda: “thanks for caring, but you still don’t get!” Another brave thing for a filmmaker to do these days, bite the hand that feeds.
Alayan says he wanted to depart from standard depictions of Palestinians on film: fanatics, terrorists, heroes or victims, and he has certainly succeeded. His protagonist, Mousa (Sami Metwasi) is a ne’er do well who steals cars from Jerusalem, clothes off washing lines and bicycles from his neighbours. He believes in nothing and respects nothing. When he’s not shouting at his long-suffering father, he’s sleeping with another man’s wife, Manal (Maya Abu Alhayyat), the girlfriend he abandoned five years ago while pregnant but now sneaks into her home for quick lovemaking which always ends in an argument. Around Mousa, there is a lesser ensemble of cheats, lowlifes, corrupt officials, and disillusioned militias. The filmmakers have managed to take their cameras into parts of Palestinian life usually invisible in contemporary Palestinian cinema and shine a harsh spotlight on this unlovely reality.
But the gems in this film are the subtler touches. Mousa slips a little cash – fruits of his latest stolen car – into the pocket of his father’s shirt on its hanger. The Israeli soldier calls out repeatedly “I’m sorry. I am sorry”; something every Palestinian’s heart aches to hear.
Alayan is very good at turning things on their head, and his film expresses itself with a string of antitheses and inverted symbols. It is the Israeli who is a prisoner of the Palestinian and the most moving love scene between Mousa and Manal is while she’s having sex with her own husband. Most surprising of all is the idea of peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis ironically while one is tied up and the other points a gun at him; Mousa listens to Avi’s unsuccessful radio audition, two men who know about failure and unfulfilled dreams.
The real politics of the film however, are buried very deep and are unexpectedly profound. Underneath the thick skin of cynical money grubbing there is in fact a solid loyalty to the land. And like the central love story, flawed and magicless as it is, when sacrifices are needed, Mousa taps into an unseen reservoir of love, loyalty and commitment.
Without sprinkling sugar on anything, without any grand political posturing, this film manages to be reassuring and hopeful.
Razanne Carmey, a brief biography
Razanne Carmey is playwright, director, producer and dramaturg with credits in London, New York, Europe and the Middle East. She was the founder and Artistic Director of Script-2-Stage and Art on the Frontline.
As Executive/Artistic Director of the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival and Art on the Frontline, Carmey has curated several exhibitions and festivals, identified and developed new talent and launched several art awards and competitions.