By Jacqui Freeman
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The Time That Remains

This article is over 14 years, 2 months old
Director: Elia Suleiman; Release date: 20 May
Issue 347

The Time That Remains is a semi-biographical account of daily life in Palestine from 1948 to the present day. The film recounts four episodes of history based upon the diaries of Elia Suleiman’s father, a resistance fighter in 1948, letters written by his mother to relatives in exile, and Suleiman’s own memory of childhood.

Set in Nazareth, initial scenes of sun-filled streets with large, elegant houses are shattered by Israeli soldiers invading the town, while an aeroplane drops propaganda leaflets and a loudspeaker urges residents to “help bring peace” by denouncing the resistance. The brutal irony of this message continues when a choir of Palestinian school girls performing patriotic Hebrew songs wins a local competition – a supposed illustration of the Israeli state’s willingness to spread the benefits of democracy to all.

Much of the film looks at the different responses to occupation, often with a deadpan humour, despite the seriousness of the subject. We see an Iraqi soldier from the Arab Liberation Army rushing past a group of men outside a cafe in 1948. He is on his way to liberate Tiberias – except that he is going in the wrong direction and Tiberias has already been liberated. This is a comment, perhaps, on the inefficacy of the surrounding Arab countries at defending Palestine.

A tug of war ensues as a wounded Palestinian is rushed into hospital on a trolley, only to be pulled back along the corridor by Israeli soldiers, recovering a “suspect for interrogation”. A scene that theoretically should not be comic manages to be so, as Suleiman employs a style reminiscent of Buster Keaton.

There are also moments of resistance. Suleiman’s headmaster demands that he refrain from stating in class that the Americans are imperialists and he is later exiled for political activity. Radio reports recount street demonstrations and there are images of teenagers throwing stones at the army.

But the sense of defeat and despair of occupation are equally present, illustrated in the elderly neighbour who is literally driven mad, the decaying economy and the collective sense of grief when Nasser dies. Moreover, later in the film Suleiman conveys a sense that, as a taxi driver states, “we have lost our way”.

The crippling poverty caused by occupation is evident when part of the action moves to Jenin and Ramallah, but it is the domination of US culture and the rise of gang fighting which Suleiman focuses on towards the end of the film. This seems a little overstated and he becomes a passive observer of events, unable to communicate with his ailing mother. But the sense of bleak humour persists, encapsulated in the song that closes the film, a remixed version of “Staying Alive”.

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