The Time That Remains stays focused on social absurdities

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      Starring Ali Suliman and Saleh Bakri. In English, Hebrew, and Arabic with English subtitles. Unrated. Opens Friday, June 10, at the Vancity Theatre

      In a land shadowed by tragedy, Elia Suleiman’s destiny seems strangely tragicomic. Born a Christian in Nazareth half a century ago, Palestine’s foremost actor-director boasts both the sympathetic stone face and the dry observational powers that Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati converted into major international careers. Under ordinary circumstances, Suleiman would have followed in their footsteps, but his circumstances are not ordinary, so all his movies must be about the “cause”.

      Divine Intervention, his previous feature, won the jury prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival with the aid of such surrealistic touches as a female Palestinian ninja and a balloon with Yasser Arafat’s face on it floating above the Dome of the Rock. His latest movie, The Time That Remains, however, is considerably less fanciful, focusing on the creation of the state of Israel. Its plot details were culled mainly from his father’s diaries and his mother’s letters, with events extending from the late 1940s to the (almost) present day.

      Although there is the occasional Israeli atrocity in The Time That Remains, most of the emphasis lies on the bureaucratic frustrations and social absurdities involved in living either as an “Arab in Israel” or as a citizen of a “nation without a state”. Suleiman himself, basically an impassive observer, is responsible for most of this story’s “present tense”, while his parents look after the “past” (his father providing the “resistance”, his mother the “reconciliation”). There are some funny moments, but nothing as bizarrely pixilated as the inspired high jinks of Divine Intervention. This isn’t a radical film by any means, and even its anger is notably muted.

      In the end, we are left with only one overwhelming feeling: sadness.

      Watch the trailer for The Time That Remains.