Kateb is a success. He is an Arab Palestinian living in Israel who has perfectly integrated into the culture. He is the writer of a hit TV show loosely based around a fictional version of himself. He has a wife and kids. Sure, they may be a bit of a headache now and then but no more than anyone else’s family. Life is pretty good. So why is Kateb such a ball of insecurity, anger and doubt? Looking like an emaciated and very tired Mark Ruffalo (some sort of anti-Hulk, perhaps), Kateb (Yousef Sweid) is Homer Simpson filtered through Louis CK. He wonders what it all means, then wonders if it means anything at all.
Adding another layer of Louis CK or – more exactly – Larry David metatextuality is the fact that creator Sayed Kashua is himself a married father of three who wrote the hit show Arab Labour, a comedy that addressed the Arab-Israeli cultural divide head on. It was also the first Israeli show to feature Palestinian characters speaking Arabic during primetime. This is all very nice and neat and looks good on a press release, but would count for nothing if The Writer wasn’t smart, brave or funny. Happily it is all three.
Some of the family strife Kateb endures is somewhat generic – nagging wife, lazy son, teen daughter glued to her phone – but it is merely the backdrop against which Kateb investigates his position in society. Has he really written a smash TV comedy or is it just that the time is right for someone of his background to prosper? Is he his own man or simply a symbol of integration? Is what he has written really good at all? And if he were to try and write a show that had nothing to do with a big-hearted comedy Arab Palestinian..? Weighty stuff, to be sure, but Kashua has a light touch and in Sweid has a lead actor who turn the smallest gesture into a big moment and can deflate the pomposity around him with one world-weary look.
Adam Lee Davies
The Writer does not have a UK release date yet. Read our interview with Shay Capon and Yousef Sweid here.
Read more of our reviews and interviews from the festival here.
For further information about Berlin Film Festival 2016 visit here.