thu 02/07/2020

Amreeka | reviews, news & interviews

Amreeka

Amreeka

A soft-centred family comedy about Palestinians in the Mid-West

West meets East in 'Amreeka': Melkar Muallem and Nisreen Faour as Palestinian sisters

The traditional place for such films is below the radar. A low-budget portrait of an ethnic minority in America which has schlepped round the festivals, Amreeka could just as easily have been cold-shouldered by distributors. It tells of a family of Palestinians redomiciled in the Midwest just as America is invading Iraq and anti-Muslim prejudice infiltrates American streets and classrooms. A good three years after being shot, it would look a bit passé, a story that had missed its moment. But a certain Public Enemy No One being shot in the head last week has given Amreeka a shot in the arm.

A drama of East-West misunderstanding swerves sharply into comedy

It begins in the West Bank, where life is getting harder every day for Muna, who works in a bank, and her son Fadi. Her husband has left, her ageing mother is a grumbler and the prospect of joining her sister out in Illinois proves too succulent. The early sections of the film feel not inappropriately like vestiges of another cinematic genre, where levity in the face of Israeli checkpoints would be somehow unsuitable. There is a tonal overlap with much grittier portraits of harsh Middle Eastern realities such Son of Babylon. And then the script gets on a plane, flies west and there is a strange gear change as it passes through customs in America. “Where are you from?” Muna is asked to which - being stateless - there is no easy answer. “Occupation?” continues the guy on the immigration desk. “Yes, it is occupied and for 40 years.” “No, what is your occupation?”

Thus a drama of East-West misunderstanding swerves sharply into comedy. It may veer back again but essentially Amreeka remains a soft-centred family drama that’s a little too eager to lay the issues out on a platter. No sooner has Fadi entered his new class, for example, than he finds himself reluctantly immersed in a discussion about the morality of invading Iraq. Meanwhile back at home his bullying cousin divvies up the bedroom she shares with a younger sister for all the world like Israel building a wall through Palestine. Muna even finds a friend in the son of a Holocaust survivor.

No doubt such experiences as are portrayed here have actually happened in America in recent years: the mob turning on the Middle Eastern kid in school; the Muslim doctor losing all his patients. “Don't blow the place up,” Muna is told when she explains that she’s an Arab. “Just kidding.” And then there’s homesickness which doesn’t go away, explains Muna’s sister Raghda (Melkar Muallem), and the relentless osmosis of American culture into the bloodstream of second-generation immigrants. “As long as you live in this house you live in Palestine,” insists the father of three American-born daughters, only to be told he's delusional.

First-time writer-director Cherian Dabis hasn’t quite managed to fashion these ingredients into a drama that compels as much as it charms. But the performances are all terrific, especially Nisreen Faour as Muna, who pretends to her family she has landed a job in a bank while working next door in a fast-food joint. As a snapshot of the homeless life on the faultline between the old country and the adoptive new one, a film which slips a little self-consciously between English and Arabic just about earns its promotion from the festival circuit.

Watch the trailer for Amreeka

No doubt such experiences have actually happened in recent years: the mob turning on the Middle Eastern kid in school; the Muslim doctor losing all his patients

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