“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. Scott. “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.”
As mentioned, “Ajami” opens at New York’s Film Forum. Karen Cooper, who has headed Film Forum since 1972, is being honored with a series at MoMA beginning today. “Karen Cooper Carte Blanche: 40 Years of Documentary Premieres at Film Forum” was curated by Cooper and includes such documentaries Agnès Varda’s “The Gleaners and I,” Terry Zwigoff’s “Crumb,” Patricio Guzmán’s “The Battle of Chile, Part 2: The Coup d’État,” and Jennie Livingston’s “Paris is Burning.” The Village Voice’s Melissa Anderson talks with Cooper about her career.
On the horizon: MoMA’s March schedule is now up online and includes a complete Jia Zhangke retrospective.
For good measure, a couple of the unrelated but interesting links to pop up in my Google Reader today: Stephen Heller has a piece on the history of movie title cards in the New York Times’ T Magazine blog; the Self-Styled Siren reveals her favorite “uncool” films and actors (Kevin Costner makes the list); and the writers at the Auteurs Notebook continue their coverage of Rotterdam.