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TIFF Capsule Review: ‘When I Saw You’

TIFF Capsule Review: 'When I Saw You'

Annemarie Jacir has done something remarkable in her sophomore feature film. She’s managed to couch the tricky subject of the 1967 Palestinian-Israeli war into the romanticised tale of a mother’s love for her son. Having been separated from their father (presumed dead) as Israel began forcibly removing Palestinians from their homes in 1967, 11-year-old Tarek (Mahmous Asfa) and his mother Ghaydaa (an excellent Ruba Blal) have been forced to move into a refugee camp in Jordan. Jacir cleverly uses the curiosity of the child to pose impossible-to-answer questions, mainly, “When can we return home?”

The mother in turn is desperate to protect her son from the horrors of war. When Tarek runs away to find his way back to Palestine, he becomes completely enthralled by a group of Arab fighters he comes across in a training camp. Jacir keeps the group nameless, even though the action takes place just three years after the formation of the P.L.O. The child is cleverly used to show the group of fighters as men and soldiers. Music is used particular effectively in scenes showing the men training in scenes reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh’s “Che.” The final image provides a defiant message about the refusal to give up hope of a return home.  And yet even without the powerful and astute political and psychological message it works as an effective and heart-rending family drama.  It’s one of the best works to come out of the current explosion in filmmaking in the Middle East. Criticwire grade: A [Kaleem Aftab]

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