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Years of Refusal: Elia Suleiman’s “The Time That Remains”

Years of Refusal: Elia Suleiman's "The Time That Remains"

Elia Suleiman’s deadpan finds its motivation in The Time That Remains. Structured in four parts, the self-identifying-Palestinian actor-director’s latest film, like his previous ones, straddles the line between sobriety and whimsy in its evocation of the absurdity of the contemporary Israel-Palestine reality—perhaps not without effort, but also not without a great degree of artistic success. For his third feature he once again mounts his film as a series of elegantly composed static frames, casting himself as a dead-eyed, immobile, silent punch line. His status as little more than prop is validated in the film’s beginning sequence, when he is the passenger in a stranded, rain-drenched taxi cab, sitting speechlessly, blurred in the back seat, barely noticeable in the frame at first. Yet that opening is instructive: Suleiman will here take a back seat to the narrative as well. Though he doesn’t forgo his well-honed, detached, super-realist style, Suleiman this time applies it to an expansive historical narrative, using his parents’ experiences (and specifically his father’s diaries) as the basis for a poignant evocation of decades of living as Arab minorities in Israel. The film begins in 1948, during the Arab-Israeli war and subsequent occupation, and traces across 1970 and 1980, finally landing in present day. And when the camera finally winds up trained again on Suleiman’s mordant, still visage, his overdetermined immobility, which in the past always seemed as though it were angling for Tati territory, feels earned, a tragic acquiescence. Read Michael Koresky’s review of The Time That Remains.

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