Ajami (Arabic: عجمي, Hebrew עג’מי); Country: Israel; Languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Year 2006)
This is the first Israeli film I have ever watched. The story focuses on the Palestinians living in Israel, or “Israeli Arabs” as they are called, and takes place in the Ajami neighbourhood of the city of Jaffa.
It’s not a single coherent story but based on five interconnecting and overlapping storylines of the five protagonists, four of them Arabs and one an Israeli soldier.
It’s largely about intra-Arab gang warfare, their poverty which leads them to illegal drug selling, and about the problems the Arabs face in their social lives.
A few troubled Arab youth independently gather to work at a restaurant owned by a Christian Arab in Jaffa, who is active in the Arab community and helps his fellow Arabs regardless of religion with their problems whenever he can. It is from there the troubled protagonists secretly embark on their quick money-making schemes, all of which come to naught.
I personally found the characterisation of Arabs a bit troubling. The emphasis is on intra-Arab gang warfare and the culture of honour and blood revenge, their failure to unite in their opposition to the life of ignominy and oppression they are forced to live, and their continual non-acceptance of the state of Israel even though some Arabs are citizens of Israel and carry its passport. But perhaps I’m reading too much into it. It might well be a true depiction of the lives of Arabs living in those lands.
There are two directors of this film. One is a Jewish Israeli and the other is a Christian Arab from Jaffa (Scandar Copti). There was a controversy after the film was nominated for Oscar. Here is a JP article about what Scandar Copti said and the reaction he got from the Israelis.
Ajami director: I don’t represent Israel
Scandar Copti, the Arab-Israeli who co-directed Oscar nominee Ajami with Jewish-Israeli Yaron Shani, said Sunday, hours before the Academy Award ceremony in Hollywood, that the film does not represent Israel because “I cannot represent a country that does not represent me.”
Speaking to Channel 2, Copti said, “I am not the Israeli national team and I do not represent Israel,” adding that the representation issue is a “technical thing, that’s how it works in the Oscars. It says ‘Israel’ because the funding comes from Israel. There’s a Palestinian director, an Israeli director, Palestinian actors and Israeli actors. The film technically represents Israel, but I don’t represent Israel.”
Copti’s co-director, Shani, did not agree.
“It’s an Israeli film, it represents Israel, it speaks ‘Israeli’ and deals with Israel-related problems. The question of representation deals with matters of perspective and political issues we need to resolve,” Shani, who was interviewed alongside Copti, said.
Angry reactions from top Israeli officials weren’t late in coming.
Habayit Hayehudi chairman MK Daniel Herschkowitz earlier called on Livnat to examine how “the man who directed the film with Israeli funding might wrap himself with a Hamas flag tonight. If the movie wins an Oscar, it might be a Pyrrhic victory for Israel.”
Other MKs were more angry still.
A furious National Union MK Michael Ben Ari suggested that Israel change the Cinema Law, which serves as the guidebook to fund Israeli films.
“Support for a film should not be granted unless the editors, producers, directors and actors sign a declaration of loyalty to the State of Israel, its symbols and its Jewish-democratic values,” he said. Weblink
Here is an interesting article on the film from BBC. Look up