Time That Remains, The

Opens Jan 6, 2011

Cannes Film Fest 2009 (in competition)–Probably the most gifted and accomplished of the Palestinian directors working today, Elia Suleiman is a regular presence at the global film festival circuit.  In 2002, he achieved some kind of a record, when "Divine Intervention" became the first Palestinian picture to play in competition at Cannes Film Fest, winning a major award, the Jury Prize.
 
A follow-up, made seven years later, "The Time That Remains" screened in competition at Cannes and was greeted with equal acclaim by critics.  Like his previous film, "Time That Remains," and Suleiman's first, "A Chronicle of Disappearance" (1996), this third installment is also episodic, but its scope is larger and ambition is bigger. The movie is inspired by the letters and diaries of Suleiman's father and also relies on his own subjective memories of growing up. 
 
A chronicle of 60 years, spanning from the summer of 1948, when the State of Israel was formally established, to the present, this personal, darkly humorous film centers on Suleiman and his family, which has lived in Nazareth (a beautiful region in the North of Israel, bordering with Lebanon).
 
Suleiman, who is officially billed as "E.S.," uses as a structural framing device his arrival in Israel as a mature man. Caught in a thunderstorm, while seated in a taxicab, jet-legged and disoriented, he raises the mystical and rhetorical question, "Where Am I?"
 
Divided into segments, the tale then begins with a painful chapter, depicting the torture and resistance of Suleiman's father (Saleh Bakri), a war hero risking his life as a freedom fighter. The father disappears mysteriously, leaving behind a loving wife and a young, alert boy, who's then sent to school, where he is brainwashed with Zionism propaganda.
 
Marked by witty irony and black humor, the film consists of precisely set and shot tableaux, in which idiosyncratic characters move in and out. Throughout the picture, dialogue is kept to a minimum, letting the striking visuals and precisely modulated tone do their job effectively.
 
As always, Suleiman's displays the wired sensibility and concise timing of a silent comic, sort of a contemporary Buster Keaton, marvelously evoking the absurdity and hilarity of the endless political conflicts between Israel and its Palestine (and Arab) residents.   It's a credit to Suleiman's wry wit and innovative strategy that he is able to function as both a detached observer of the proceedings and an active participant in them, smoothly navigating between these positions.
 
Among the highlights of this highly vignettish but extremely poignant and rewarding picture are a school attendance of the Hollywood war epic, "Spartacus," in which the schoolmistress becomes overly emotional and apologetic during a love scene between Kirk Douglas and Jean Simmons.
 
Postmodernist culture is all over the film, what with a sequence, in which a Chinese housekeeper sings a karaoke version of Celine Dion's popular tune, "My Heart Will Go On," from the blockbuster "Titanic,"
 
The mood of the piece gets more somber and serious in the last reel, when the mature Elia returns on Christmas to take care of his aging mother (Samar Qudha Tanus), whose health rapidly declines. She comes across as a solitary, noble, self-composed woman, who hardly speaks but makes sure that her presence is always felt.
 
Cast:
 
Elia Suleiman
Saleh Bakri
Leila Muammar
Yasmine Haj
Tarek Qubti
Zuhair Abu Hanna
Ayman Espanioli
Samar Qudha Tanus
Shafika Bajjali.
 
Credits
 
A Le Pacte release (in France) of the Film presentation of the Film, Nazira Films, France 3 Cinema (France)/Artemis Prods., RTBF (Belgium)/Bim Distribuzione (Italy), in association with Corniche Pictures, Wild Bunch. International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.
Produced by Michael Gentile, Elia Suleiman.
Executive producer, Hani Farsi.
Co-producer, Avi Kleinberger.
Directed, written by Elia Suleiman.
Camera, Marc-Andre Batigne.
Editor, Veronique Lange.
Art director, Sharif Waked.
Costumes, Judy Shrewsbury.
Sound, Eric Tisserand, Pierre Mertens, Christian Monheim.
Casting, Juna Suleiman.
 
Running time: 109 Minutes.