Ajami (15)

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The Independent Culture

Set in the titular neighbourhood of Jaffa, in Israel, this riveting drama examines the violence and tension crackling through the city's uneasy mix of Arabs, Jews and Christians.

Comparable in its impact to Amores Perros, it braids several different stories into a weave whose vitality is enhanced by acting that often feels closer to life than to drama. Its pivotal character would be Omar (Shahir Kabaha), who narrowly misses being killed in a gang-related hit and is thereafter involved in a desperate bid to raise pay-off money and keep his family safe. Family is the crux in this volatile milieu. A Jewish police detective, worrying over the disappearance of his soldier brother, tries to console his distraught parents. A Palestinian refugee works as an illegal to finance his mother's surgery back home. The hair-trigger atmosphere is palpable: time and again we watch minor street hassle burst into bloody confrontations, a mood captured in the eloquent graphic comic-strips of Omar's younger brother, Nasri. It's harrowing at times, yet compassionate and clear-sighted, a double vision that feels even more plausible once you know that its directors, Yaron Shani and Scandar Copti, are, respectively, an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian.

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