The 2010 Toronto Palestine Film Festival began its third year with the film The Time That Remains at Bloor Cinema Saturday night. This is director Elia Sulieman’s follow-up to the acclaimed Divine Intervention , which was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Academy Award. The Time That Remains was previously screened at Cannes and the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, and so was an obvious choice to start the festival with.
The film is told in four segments beginning in 1948 and leading up to the present. The film is based on the director’s father’s real life diaries and his mother’s letters friends from the same period. The first segment starts from when his father was a fighter in the Arab-Israel War of 1948 and the overtaking of Nazareth by Israeli forces. The second and third segment deals with the aftermath of the war and life in Nazareth for Palestinians in a Jewish state. The fourth and final segment finds director Sulieman coming home to visit his ailing mother in exile, a segment in which the director plays himself.
The final segment in particular could have benefited from a narrator or better exposition at the beginning. The film takes a major jump in its timeline, so it is very hard to follow at first. In addition, unless you are from that part of the world or have background in Palestine/Israeli politics I think many viewers might have trouble understanding the humour. It felt as though the context of many of the unique situations that Palestinians have had and still go through was lost.
The film’s strength is with Elia Sulieman’s camera work and use of composition. He uses widescreen filmmaking to its fullest by holding the camera back with many conflicting actions going on inside its frame. This creates an interesting mix of drama and comedy happening at simultaneously. I wouldn’t be surprised if Elia Sulieman was a big fan of John Ford, who was a master at these types of “fly on the wall” compositions, especially in family settings.
The film is both a mix of drama and comedy. Politics are not the primary focus of the film, but they certainly permeate every aspect of life in this film, be it directly or indirectly. Most of the film is situational, so even within the four segments there are many mini-stories going on. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker the film could have fallen apart having structure this loose, but Sulieman pulls it off. There are long gaps between the humour and the drama which make both more intense when the situations change. They say that there isn’t much distance from comedy and tragedy, and it seem that for the Palestinian people, neither is ever very far from home.