The 2010 Toronto Palestine Film Festival continued with the Canadian Premiere of Zindeeq playing to a sold-out crowd. Director Michel Khleifi was in attendance to introduce the film and take questions from the audience. The film has also played the Dubai International Film Festival winning the Muhr Arab Award for Best Film.
This drama tells the story of a Palestinian filmmaker named ‘M’ (Mohammad Bakri) who has returned to his hometown of Nazareth to film eyewitness accounts of the 1948 Nakba and Arab-Israeli War. Zindeeq means ‘atheist’ and ‘freethinker’ and M is a bit of both. While he is in Nazareth, his hedonistic ways with women breaks up his relationship with his partner. He has rejected god, country, family and now his primary relationship. After his nephew kills a man, his family becomes at risk for reprisals so he tries to find a place to stay, but is forced to fend for himself for the night after being rejected at hotel after hotel because of his Palestinian heritage. This comes as a shock to him after living in Europe.
The film deals with social and political struggles the Palestinian minority encounters everyday in Israel without beating you over the head with it. It’s almost impossible to have a story about Palestinians in Nazareth in this day and not have some political overtones. Director Michel Khleifi strikes the right balance with the drama of the story and the social and political aspects in the background, though never out of sight.
For a film dealing with Palestinians and Jews, the film is filled with Christian imagery. It uses the Christian story of Mary and Joseph being rejected at the inn with the real life rejection that M gets trying to a get a hotel room. By having this rejection, M loses his material creature comforts and it forces him to look at his history, his family and his relationships. When he can’t get a room, he finally ends up in his abandoned childhood home where he is forced to re-examine his life. This rejection by the the hotels also works well as a metaphor to the rejection and intolerance the Palestinians have had to endure being an “Arab-Israeli” minority.
During the introduction director Michel Khleifi indicated that he intentionally left ‘white spaces’ for the viewer to make their own conclusions on what is happening. There many actions in the film that we don’t know the timeline for, if it is real, or if M is imagining it. It doesn’t matter of if it’s real or not because the film has a rhythm to it that inherently makes sense as a whole. There is an emotional truth to M’s experience that ties together all those whites spaces.