An Israeli film that closely mirrors the work of Alejandro González Iñárritu such as Amores Perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006), Ajami (2009) is the directorial debut of Yaron Shani and Scandar Copti, and is an unflinching study of the nature of violence its aftermath, both on victims and perpetrators, and also a fascinating portrait of humanity struggling in one of the more volatile areas of the Middle East.
In Jaffa, a port city in Tel Aviv, the fear and frustration of the locals is growing, as continued acts of aggression from political and religious sources cut a swathe through daily life. Omar (Shahir Kabaha) is out to avenge the shooting of his uncle, Dando (Eran Naim) is a Jewish cop trying to find his missing brother in Jaffa; while Malek (Ibrahim Frege) is a Palestinian refugee desperately trying to raise the money he needs to pay for his mother’s medical care. But everyday concerns are only ever separated from the city’s criminal underclass by a hair’s breadth, as the men struggle to adhere to their loved ones as the tensions, and horrifying brutalities, escalate.
Directors Shani and Copti (the latter also has a notable role to play in the film’s narrative) accentuate the sense of disorder that frequently (and violently) tips into hostility, drawing a picture of an explosive city perpetually on the brink of bloodshed over nothing more than longstanding feuds and seemingly harmless neighbourhood disagreements. Jaffa is not an anarchy, but the daily violence splits the community into those genuinely fearing for their lives and those who choose to join the mindless cycle of revenge.
The directors have divided the film into five chapters, to accentuate the diverse perspectives and psychologies at play, with excellent performances from a largely amateur cast, who bring both feral ferocity and existential agony to their roles. A riveting and heartrending experience, Ajami is a fascinating insight into the Middle East that lies behind the headlines.
120 mins. In Arabic and Hebrew.