Here’s a film that speaks volumes about the nightmarish daily reality of the Palestinian occupied territories without resorting to kitschy sensationalism or off-putting, manipulating sentimentality.
Rashid Masharawi’s latest sublime work “Eid Milad Laila (Laila’s Birthday) is essentially a black comedy expounding the chaos, confusion and carelessness brought by more than 50 years of resistance, peace-negotiations and failed bureaucracies.
The film is another outstanding Palestinian entry in the festival’s Arab Feature Films Competition.
Like Masharawi’s previous films, “Laila is set in one day. Veteran Palestinian actor Mohammed Bakri plays Abu Laila who served as a judge in a neighboring country for more than 10 years before returning to his home country. Amid the constant reshuffling of ministries, Abu Laila is forced to work as a taxi driver while awaiting his appointment in the justice circuit.
The judge has one sole goal in mind that day: to make it on time for his young daughter’s birthday.
The strict and disciplined Abu Laila has his own set of rules which he enforces upon his passengers: No trips to checkpoints, no armed men, no smoking, passengers sitting in the front seat must wear their seatbelts…etc.
Throughout the day, the judge encounters a variety of characters; a former inmate (Bakri’s son, Saleh, from “The Band’s Visit ) imprisoned for smoking, two lovers attempting to spend some quality time with each other in the cab since it’s less costly than cyber chatting, a young mother whose child is badly injured in an ambush, among others.
The chain of subsequent events is sparked when one of Abu Laila’s passengers forgets his cell phone in the car, driving Abu Laila to face more red tape from the police station where he attempts to drop off the phone.
Masharawi groundbreaking “Hatta Ishaar Akhar (Until Further Notice) was the first Palestinian film shot and produced form the Gaza Strip. His latest picture has attracted substantial buzz internationally, primarily due to his untraditional treatment of the subject.
Abu Laila is a stoic, quixotic figure, a composed, idealistic man surviving in an exceedingly chaotic world; a lone sane voice in the midst of insanity. The world around Abu Laila seems to have moved forward. The lunacy of the occupation has deeply infiltrated the ordinary citizens, transforming them into numb mummies, succumbing to the madness of it all.
Lofty talk of resistance, sacrifice and fighting the good fight are nowhere to found in the film. Instead, Masharawi approaches his subject matter from a wry perspective, avoiding submitting a clear-cut message despite the brief wink to the failed peace negotiations, the apathy and passivity of the Arab world towards the Palestinian cause and the division inside Palestinian society.
Most imperatively though, “Laila’s Birthday is about one man aching to lead a normal life inside a blazing war zone. In the climatic and most powerful scene of the film, Abu Laila grabs a microphone off a trunk and attempts to coordinate the traffic, addressing the Israeli helicopters constantly hovering over the Palestinian skies.
“Will you just leave us for one second? he screams. “We just want to live a normal life. Why can’t you stop? All of you, up there, and down there, and over there.
Catch”Laila’s Birdthday tonight, 7 pm, at Metro cinema.