Synopsis: The film is the debut from Israeli and Palestinian co-directors Yaron Shani and Scandar Copti, whose location filming, use of nonprofessional actors and balanced perspective lend a palpable authenticity to a complex, cross-cultural drama -- set in Jaffa’s multi-ethnic Ajami neighborhood, home to Jews, Muslims and Christians. The repercussions of a revenge killing reveal the cultural and religious tensions simmering beneath the surface: two young brothers fear assassination after their uncle wounds a local criminal; a young Palestinian refugee works illegally in Israel to finance his mother’s surgery; an Israeli woman and her affluent Palestinian boyfriend dream of building a life together; and a Jewish cop is obsessed with finding his missing brother. AJAMI premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, and has won numerous prizes at festivals worldwide, including the Cannes, London, Jerusalem and Thessaloniki film festivals.
Round-up: "The Israeli movie 'Ajami,' one of the five Oscar nominees for best foreign-language film, takes its name from a rough neighborhood in Jaffa, a mostly Arab city just south of Tel Aviv," writes the New York Times' A.O. Sc... ott. "This particular urban conflict zone may be unfamiliar to most American viewers, but it bears a definite kinship to mean streets we know very well, at least from movies and television. Crime is endemic, bonds of family and friendship can be both sustaining and fatal, and the urge to escape is no match for the gravitational pull of the place itself." "Ajami" opens today at New York's Film Forum. Eric Hynes, from his review for indieWIRE: "Co-directed by Yaron Shani, an Israeli Jew, and Scandar Copti, an Israeli-born Palestinian, 'Ajami'...thankfully bears no trace of political compromise or pandering parity, and is instead a sustained cry of urgent despair. The film proceeds in chapters and gradually intersected strands: an Arab-Israeli family becomes imperiled and financially ruined by a petty vendetta; a Palestinian works illegally in Jaffa to pay for his mother’s surgery; a Jewish cop struggles to remain impartial on the job after his younger brother has gone missing; a Palestinian hopes to marry a Jewish woman while another falls for a Christian; paths cross, plots are hatched, messes get messier." "It's a film to harvest for moments; 'Ajami' wobbles, and character logic falters, whenever the actors are called upon to ratchet up the stakes. The filmmakers return inexorably to the image of a streetside grapple escalating into a tragic altercation, with the camera getting feisty, but the microcosm vibe at least stops short of an operatic world-embrace," writes Nicolas Rapold in The L Magazine, who calls the film "(thankfully not) the Israeli 'Crash.'" "Israeli films have made enormous formal and aesthetic strides in the last decade, and 'Ajami'—along with 'The Band's Visit,' 'Beaufort,' 'Waltz With Bashir,' and other recent critical darlings—is notable for its innovative style, its willingness to entertain, its attentiveness to other genres than linear-narrative realism, and its departure from the conventional war pictures that have dominated Israeli cinema for decades," notes the Village Voice's Ella Taylor. Slant Magazine's Andrew Schenker: "If most films concerned with establishing a multifarious web of events and a head-spinningly complex narrative structure sacrifice specific detail for larger framework, then 'Ajami' goes some way toward righting the balance, but it would take far greater artists than the present duo to make such an overambitious framework into a means for actually yielding, rather than inhibiting, insight into their subjects." More on Ajami from Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf and Dan Fainaru at Screen Daily.