Thursday 9th October, 8.45pm – Curzon Mayfair
Saturday 12th October, 12pm – Vue West End
Dancing Arabs’ opening sequence could be a short film in itself. It’s a brief sharp beginning that gives a slice of protagonist Eyad’s childhood in Palestine, and while it paints a vivid picture of a small Arab village, the main takeaways are twofold: Eyad, played for the most part by Tawfeek Barhom, is a smart kid, but the conflict between Israel and Palestine is both complex and entrenched.
Eyad’s smarts carry him through to young adulthood, gaining him a sought-after place at an educational establishment in Jerusalem, and it’s here that the majority of this coming-of-age tale takes place. Stranded in a city so different from his hometown, full of people whose views are the polar opposite of his own, the culture shock comes quickly and hits hard. The friends Eyad makes are initially powerless against a xenophobia that stems from the overwhelming anti-Palestine regime, and any hopes of fitting in are quickly extinguished.
But Eyad has a firmer will than most, and with a little coaching from Jewish love interest Naomi, it’s not long before he’s wearing his difference like a badge of honour. Further support comes from the final pillar of the story: Jonathan is around Eyad’s age but suffers from a terminal degenerative disease that is slowly stripping him of his mobility. Thrown together by the school’s outreach program, the two quickly bond over shared perceived differences from the rest of society, and their cruel jokes only strengthen their bond.
With such a heavy subject matter, it’s surprising that the film’s tone is so light. There are genuine chuckles to be had, along with moments of triumph and romcom-esque scenes of romance. The flip side of which is that emotions never let fly in the way you imagine they will, with over-edited scenes that are never quite left long enough to reach their emotional conclusion.
What really lets Dancing Arabs down however is its multiple plot threads that, in such a short space, don’t quite fit together as well as the neat ending would have you believe. Given more scope, as in the much praised novel of the same name, it’s probable that these unconnected plot threads could have coalesced more smoothly, but in their current truncated form they lead to a regrettably unsatisfying finale.
Joe Manners Lewis
Dancing Arabs is released in the UK on 9th October 2014.
For further information about the BFI London Film Festival visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for Dancing Arabs here: