Omar (Shahir Kabaha) knows that the bullets that killed his neighbor were meant for him. He must raise money to quell a revenge feud or run away. At the same time, he has a secret relationship with a young woman whose father won’t let them be together.
Dando (Eran Naim) is an Israeli police officer whose younger brother is missing, but suddenly there is a tip on his whereabouts. Is he alive or dead? Malek is a young Palestinian teen who wants to raise money to save his mother who needs an operation that is too costly for the family to afford.
With similarities to “City of God,” and “Amores Perros,” the film is shown out of order as we piece together what exactly has taken place in Ajami, where people of different religions try to get along. Besides directing, Copti does a fine job as Binj, a man whose home is searched by Israeli police because they think he has drugs and may know something about the stabbing of an Israeli.
One of the strengths of this gritty film is that the writers don't attempt to solve the conflict in a Hallmark-card fashion like some others do. It is a harrowing tale but it seems very real. There is very little overacting and you feel like you are walking into rooms of fury. “Ajami” is neither formulaic nor is it or preachy. How the directors get such performances from non-actors is a wonder. While far away, people involved in violence might seem totally hot-headed and foolish, here we at least sympathize with them, even if we don’t condone what they do. It’s survival of the fittest, but those who are tough don’t always win. And of course, there’s not always a winner. In mere moments, an argument can result in murder in Ajami, this poor neighborhood in Jaffa. The film, which is in Arabic, with snippets of Hebrew, is Israel’s third consecutive film to be nominated for an Oscar, following “Waltz With Bashir,” and “Beaufort.”
“Ajami,” which earned the major awards from the Israeli Film Academy, including Best Film, is at its best when there are verbal arguments that escalate. Each side believes it is correct, whether it’s an Israeli against a Palestinian, a father against a daughter or a brother against a brother. Everybody wants to be a hero and in this film, everybody wants to live. Any writer or director can craft a film where people take guns out and shoot people, but this film forms a framework where care enough to wish we could take the guns out of their hands.
As Omar, Kabaha does a fine job as someone thrust into responsibility of running a family. His face shows nerves but also a strong front hiding the fear. As Malek, Ibrahim Frege epitomizes the respectful but desperate youth, who tells his boss at the restaurant: “I will work for you for all of my life,” so he can earn money to save his mother. Naim spews looks of guilt at not being able to find out what’s become of his brother. “Ajami,” is a film that will keep you engaged and you’d better be, its’ easy to miss something. Don’t miss this film.
Directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani
Starring: Shahir Kabaha, Eran Naim
Running Time: 2 hrs
In Arabic, with English subtitles
Playing at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Film Forum