Film review: 'Ajami' is convoluted but works

Published: Thursday, April 29 2010 3:05 p.m. MDT

Shahir Kabaha plays Omar, Fouad Habash is Nasri and Eran Naim is Dando in the Oscar-nominated "Ajami."

Kino International

Enlarge photo»

AJAMI — ★★★ — Fouad Habash, Shahir Kabaha, Ibrahim Frege; with English subtitles (Arabic and Hebrew dialects); not rated, probable R (violence, drugs, profanity, brief gore, slurs, vulgarity, brief sex); Broadway Centre

Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa probably used the multiple viewpoints of the same scene gimmick most effectively and most memorably in the 1950 thriller "Rashomon."

It's been used repeatedly since then, in things as diverse as the 1996 war thriller "Courage Under Fire" and Quentin Tarantino's acclaimed 2004 feature "Pulp Fiction."

But "Ajami" proves it can still be used for good effect. The well-acted, Oscar-nominated co-production from Germany and Israel offers up a few new twists on the theme, while telling an effective, fairly fresh story.

Co-directors Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani follow several residents of a Tel Aviv suburb — all of whom wind up in the same predicament at the same time.

One of them is a young boy, Nasri (Fouad Habash, who also narrates). He and his family find themselves in danger after an uncle shoots a member of a local gang.

His older brother, Omar (Shahir Kabaha), is in love with Hadir (Ranin Karim), the daughter of disapproving neighborhood leader Abu Elias (Youssef Sahwani).

And Malek (Ibrahim Frege) is a teen who's gone into the occupied territory to work illegally — so he can raise money for his mother's exorbitant hospital bills.

Contrivances bring this bunch together, and the plotting gets a little too complicated and convoluted. Luckily, these are characters that feel real, whose problems are relatable.

The fresh-faced cast members — most of whom are amateurs — help in that regard. Habash, in particular, is very likable.

"Ajami" is not rated but would probably receive an R for strong violent content and imagery (gunplay and shootings, beatings, automotive mayhem and child-in-peril elements), drug content and references (marijuana and narcotics use), some strong sexual language (mostly profanity), brief bloody imagery, derogatory language and slurs (based on race, ethnicity and country of origin), some suggestive and/or off-color references, and brief sexual contact. Running time: 120 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS