Omor Shakhsiya (Personal Affairs)
Israeli director Maha Haj’s first film, Omor Shakshiya (Personal Affairs), is a witty and modern family drama revolving around five characters, each with their personal and inter-personal conflicts. Selected for the Un Certain Regard section of the festival, the film is a parade of sharp-tongued dialogue and borderline absurd yet totally credible situations spread out across Palestine, Israel, and Sweden.
The adorably dysfunctional family, held together by Skype and mobile phones, is a prototype of today’s dispersed households, caught up in a mix of tradition and technology. Sometimes resembling a sketch-based film, despite itself, Omor Shakshiya gets all the praise for its snappy wisecracks and taste for the absurd, and for not leaving out an ironic commentary on social customs and behaviour. It also very clearly alludes to the political disputes of the region, as is necessary and probably unavoidable, given the conditions one must succumb to if living between Israel and Palestine.
The (soon to be century-long) Israeli-Palestinian conflict constitutes the background of the story, but rather than heavy-handedly pushing it to the front of the scene, the film instead scrutinises its effects on ordinary people – the guns, the police, the checkpoints, the unjustified interrogations. The tension is a burdensome reality that is impossible to ignore, but even in prison are we allowed to laugh (albeit through gritted teeth), as this family makes it as entertaining as possible.
With a hilarious trip to Sweden and the parents’ consistently grotesque routine, Haj presents an intelligent, boisterous film. Both Middle Eastern and Scandinavian backdrops are admirably entwined with the family’s private drama. Nothing revolutionary on the technical side, but no need for it to step into experimentation: the core of Omor Shakshiya is its shrewd reflection on life in Ramallah, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Haifa – and that of expatriates all over the world. The intrusion of authority raises the tension just enough to give the film a wider outlook of general interest. A fast-paced, quick-witted feature, Maha Haj leaves us with a smile and a lot to reflect upon.
Omor Shakshiya (Personal Affairs) does not yet have a UK release date.
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