Beyond the Keffiyeh

Even the most fervent adherents to a cause or country grow weary of polemics. So the challenge for Palestinian filmmakers is to find fresh ways to talk about the occupation that inspire responses other than anger or sorrow. Najwa Najjar’s impressive feature debut, Pomegranates and Myrrh, ignites the 13th annual Arab Film Festival tonight at 7:30 with a lush blend of romance and reality. A newlywed folk dancer must forge her own path, past disapproving in-laws and an enticing suitor, when the Israeli army jails her husband. Ramallah is the setting of veteran director Rachid Mashrawi’s delicious and biting Laila’s Birthday (Oct. 16 at 7 p.m.), which follows a judge-turned-cabbie for a day through a daunting succession of absurdist situations and moments. There’s a large and vibrant Arab world beyond Palestine, of course, and the festival has cherry-picked colorful tales from Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and elsewhere. A singularly gritty temptation is Casanegra (Oct. 17 at 8:30 p.m.), which transports us to Casablanca where a pair of lifelong buddies and petty grifters are primed to quit the life after the proverbial last job. The Arab Film Festival is a place for dreamers of all persuasions — economic, romantic, and, of course, political. And they aren’t just up on the screen.
Oct. 15-25, 2009

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