REVIEW: The Time That Remains is a cinematic gem

There I was with this week s reviews all done and delivered and then

The Time That Remains. (15.) Directed by Elia Suleiman. Starring Ali Suliman, Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri, Yasmine Haj, Azman Espanioli. 108 mins. Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles. *****

There I was with this week's reviews all done and delivered and then the DVD of this drops through the letterbox. An autobiographic account of a Palestinian family's life in Nazareth from the moment it surrendered to Israel in 1948 to the present day - the temptation to just forget about it and say that it got lost in the post was strong. Still, I'll just watch the first 10 minutes just to make sure it's not some kind of masterpiece......and wouldn't you know it, it's some kind of masterpiece.

Many film makers have narratives of injustice and conflict to share with you. Most will come at you with anger and rage, the special ones though come at you with droll detachment.

Suleiman's film is an absurdist vision of an absurd existence; a cinematic gem of precision and invention. It humorous, and though that humour may be weary and despairing it's often very funny weary and despairing humour.

He shoots everything with a static camera which he aims at some beautifully composed images. Nothing feels wasted; every little detail seems to add to the vision is some obscure way.

Normally that would suggest some kind of rather rigid and distant perfectionism but there is life in these compositions, Suleiman is prepared to move in for a close up, or cut within a scene. The film is simultaneously highly stylised and yet naturalistic, universal yet intimate.

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After a brief opening in the present day, the film drops in on the Suleiman family in Nazareth at various points during the existence of Israel, usually when his father or the young Elie are running into trouble with the Israeli authorities. The film offers up only the hazy gist of the family's story but the various vignettes seem to encompass the region's travails. There is no clear narrative other than the eternal tale of aging, surviving, making do and somehow being none the wiser.

Towards the end the writer/ director Suleiman takes over the central role as himself. Initially his glum mournful presence stops the film dead. He just stands there seeming a little lost, resentful at the turn of events that have caused him to be in the film. But as the film picks up again it becomes clear that the sadness in the film is something more personal than political, that life has far bigger disappointments than living under Israeli rule.