When I Saw You
Annemarie Jacir’s second feature film When I Saw You weaves through several emotional strands but is ultimately a tale of love and bravery amid the harshest of climates. Set in Palestine during the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967, it focuses on just two of the many thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled to Jordan after being forced to abandon their homes and families to stay alive.
We meet Ghaydaa and her 11-year-old son Tarek in a crowded refugee camp as they await the arrival of the husband and father they so long to see, packed on one of the trucks that lumber dustily into the camp. But it is a reunion that from the film’s opening moments we know will never materialise.
Despite the overcrowding, evident from the snaking queues that wait patiently for food and facilities, Ghaydaa and Tarek live a lonely existence. Having resigned herself, like many others, to an indeterminate future in this rootless existence, Ghaydaa (Ruba Blal) is forced to be pragmatic, but there is a glimmer of a spark in her serious nature. Tarek, on the other hand, bears none of his mother’s worries on his own shoulders. Mischievous, inquisitive and aching for the life he once knew, he continually rebels against his mother’s protection and leaves the camp in search for his home and his father.
Finding himself in the company of a group of Palestinian revolutionary fighters who are training in the hills, he is taken under their wing. We know the kind of danger Tarek could find himself in, even if he doesn’t, and it is this blind trust that the boy has in his new-found friends that props up much of the film’s heartwarming humour.
Tarek is portrayed with a huge amount of charm by Mahmoud Asfa, himself a Palestinian refugee – this is his first acting role. His wide, twinkling eyes reveal an infectious spirit, that even when we want to shake him for his naivety we can’t help but root for.
While the film has a somewhat rose-tinted outlook, there are some poignant and striking scenes that use childish perspective to betray a chilling reality. Tarek spends his days painting and fashioning toys out of whatever he can find, but the signs he paints are revolutionary banners emblazoned with machine guns, while his toys are made from bullets.
The dwindling spark inside Ghaydaa soon flickers brighter as her son’s way of thinking drags them into ever more precarious situations. When I Saw You keeps its cards close to its chest until the final moments, and as a result sustains a momentum that teeters between safety and danger, and between love and war.
When I Saw You will be released nationwide on 6th June 2014.
Watch the trailer for When I Saw You here: