Amreeka (NC)

Starring: Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem
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The Independent Culture

Muna, a non-religious Palestinian, is under significant strain. Every day she has to cross an Israeli checkpoint for her banking job.

As if this isn't wretched enough, she also locks eyeballs with her former husband's stick-thin girlfriend in the grocers'. Then, on her way home to Bethlehem, her car is regularly checked, and when she finally arrives there her harridan of a mother demands: "How can you forget the tomatoes?" It makes perfect sense that Muna and her bright son, Fadi (Melkar Muallem), seize their chance to flee to Amreeka (the Arabic word for America), specifically to rural Illinois, to live with her sister (Hiam Abbass). But that quickly proves an ordeal, too. The tin containing all her money is confiscated at US customs, and it's 2003, so the war in Iraq has just started. However, her American niece does reassure her that "Mum said everyone in America is fat, so maybe you can fit in."

There's more advice for Fadi; it's vital he fits in and doesn't look FOB (Fresh Off the Boat). But, inevitably, he's confronted by ignorance – the school bullies write "Al kada" on his cousin's car – "They couldn't even spell right."

Cherien Dabis's nimble, big-hearted film is blessed with a hugely expressive central performance from Misreen Faour as Muna, full of humanity and wit, and Muallem is also compelling, with his lopsided smile. There's some rather clichéd melodrama, such as a scuffle with some bullies in the school hallway, a confrontation in a burger bar, a trip to the cop-shop, but in the main Amreeka is a restrained, and in parts lovely, drama with the central (rather bleak) message that "every place sucks", especially when you're a teenager and you're poor.