If there's one place you don't want to live, it's Ajami in Israel – at least if this mesmerising coming-of-age drama is anything to go by.
Ajami is a neighbourhood of Jaffa, a town along the coast from Tel Aviv where Christians live alongside Muslims, Arabs alongside Jews, in a dusty, concrete, sun-baked melting pot. They are all enemies, yet the strength of Ajami is the absence of politics. Rather, it shows the tragedy of misunderstandings, criminality, grudges, racism and casual violence that makes the Holy Land so godforsaken.
First-time film-makers Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani have produced a complex tale of disparate lives that is both shocking and heartbreaking. The film centres on Omar, a 19-year-old Muslim who is seeing the daughter of his Christian Arab boss, Abu Elias, on the sly. Omar's uncle has shot a Bedouin tribesman who was demanding protection money, so the whole family is now a target for revenge killings. The teenager must pay a high price in dollars for peace, and raising that money draws him into small-time crime and incompetent drug dealing.
All this before we get round to Jewish cop Dando, a loving father out for revenge after the body of his soldier brother is found in Gaza where Malek – a 16-year-old illegal worker in Abu Elias's restaurant – lives. Family features heavily in all the narratives – Malek's mother needs a life-saving operation; Omar's mother is in a state of constant worry; Elias doesn't want his daughter to shame the family; restaurant worker Binj wants to marry his Jewish girlfriend and move to Tel Aviv. That's possibly because family is the glue of humanity and yet also the cause of the tribalism that is displayed so cunningly in this film, nominated for a best-foreign language Oscar.
Ajami's is shot out of sequence so we travel back and forwards in time until all the narratives stitch together. It's like Pulp Fiction in that respect, and there's certainly a Tarantino influence, although the issues are deadly serious. While this structure makes for a compelling two hours, it can also be confusing. But then, so is the internecine complexity of the world's biggest sore point.
Violence is pretty much the theme of the week. Killers is a rom-com cum spy yarn with Ashton Kutcher, his pecs, and Katherine Heigl. Kutcher is a Bond-style spy who falls in love with the ditzy (yawn) Heigl and decides he wants to give up his high-octane lifestyle and settle in suburbia. Just like that. Three years later the suburban idyll is rocked when assassins pop up in the neighbourhood and Kutcher has to engage in some Bourne-style violence while squabbling with his wife, who is not only unhappy at discovering she's married to an international man of mystery, but has to take a pregnancy test while he's locked in a bitter struggle to the death. It doesn't work: the tone's all wrong and there's no chemistry between the stars. Kutcher may be nice to look at but he's the most unconvincing tough guy ever.
MacGruber is another Hollywood action flick played for laughs. The character – an Inspector Clouseau of the special forces – started life as a Saturday Night Live sketch. But then so did Wayne's World and the Blues Brothers, so we can't hold that against it. What we can hold against it, however, is that this spoof of 1980s' action hero MacGyver just isn't funny, with its banal reliance on lame sex jokes.
Also Showing: 20/06/2010
Our Family Wedding (97 mins, (12A)
Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia are the African-American and Hispanic dads who engage in a bit of racist one-upmanship in Los Angeles when their offspring announce their nuptials (above). It's a potentially rich area for comedy – especially with two such able stars – but the film bottles it and descends into a predictable film-by-numbers laugh-an-hour wedding romp. Without a white actor anywhere near a big role, this could have been ground-breaking. Instead we have two clichéd middle-aged men – sleazy Whitaker with a taste for younger women, and tired Mencia with the lust gone out of his life – who, guess what, end up bonding and realising that their children have their own lives to lead.
Hierro (89 mins, (12A)
A disturbing Spanish psychological drama about a woman who loses her five-year-old son on a ferry on the way to the Canary Island of El Hierro. There's lots of jarry camera work, screechy violins and plinkety piano as mum Elena Anaya stumbles around the volcanic island looking for her child. The cinematography is great and there's plenty of atmosphere – but why anybody would want to make such a horrible film is a mystery.
Rashomon (88 mins, (12A)
The Japanese director Akira Kurasawa – best known for The Seven Samurai (in turn best known as the inspiration for The Magnificent Seven) – is said to have announced his genius to the world in 1950 with this version of a 12th- century folk tale that looks at a samurai killing and rape from multiple viewpoints. Re-released through the British Film Institute, it is not only a hugely influential film, but is also brilliant. A must-see.
Trash Humpers (78 mins, (18)
Harmony Korine, he of the cult hits Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy, turns his bizarre gaze on tramps with a pseudo-documentary about old people who, well, hump garbage, among other strange and completely unconnected activities. The film's chief claim to fame is that it is made to look like it was shot on a worn VHS tape. Korine may well be trying to say something profound. Heaven knows what, though.
Nicholas Barber assesses Russell Brand in his first starring film role in Get Him to the GreekReuse content