Within the first five minutes of one of the five Oscar nominated foreign films, a young boy in the crime laden Jaffa, Israeli neighborhood of Ajami is murdered while changing a tire, only for us to learn shortly thereafter that he'd been targeted by accident, having recently purchased the car he was working on from the neighbor for whom the bullet was meant.
This we discern in a few ways as it's revealed to us visually and audibly following the death but perhaps the biggest key that danger was lurking came before the gunman ever arrived. For in what we assumed was a nonchalant conversation shared by the boy and the kid sister of the neighbor, the soon to be killed juvenile notes that she shouldn't ridicule the car since it used to belong to her family.
Much more than just a riveting way to start a movie, the opening sequence of Ajami offers an important lesson for viewers to remember in that nothing in the feature filmmaking debut of the film's writing/editing and directing team Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani should be taken for granted as a mere accident.
Whether it's a seemingly superfluous line of dialogue, a questionable camera angle, or a few characters with whom we're initially unfamiliar, the filmmakers take great pains in ensuring that everything pays off in often the most unexpected of ways.
And eventually we dissect key scenes from another point-of-view, uncover alliances of which we weren't previously aware while some of the “snapshots” that had been displayed earlier suddenly form an unforgettable nonlinear collage.
And because of the way that Ajami continually builds upon itself, challenging our preconceptions about the characters and where they're headed with every new “chapter” the filmmakers offer us, it seems all the more important that Copti and Shani took the plunge to not only write but also edit and direct their work since they are the absolute authorities on the stories they want to tell.
Following the first death, we're eased into the incredibly complicated, overlapping world of a handful of characters from diverse ethnic and/or religious backgrounds as they initially introduce us to two young men who find themselves in horrific situations before they cross paths with a police officer and their fate will be decided in another burst of gun violence.
A very cinema literate film, Ajami is stylistically reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, thematically similar to Crash given its multi-ethnic approach that reminds us that the similarities outweigh the differences between the Christians, Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Israelis and Palestinians in terms of honor, duty, vengeance and the bonds of family members, and socially comparable to City of God.
Yet despite the fact that all of the information contained therein is vital, given the fact that it clocks in at exactly 120 minutes it's emotionally unrelenting to the point where some viewers may be driven away thanks to the sweaty palm inducing, shaky camera feeling Ajami provokes in the story of young men all trying to survive.
Even though power is a metaphor for life in a lot of crime films, the fascinating thing about this one is the fact that instead of searching for money to become low level hoodlums, two of the most emotionally heartbreaking characters in the work are desperate for funds simply to save their family's lives... literally speaking.
A powerful, compelling, passionate and potently authentic work, Ajami is additionally fueled by the neorealist roots of filming with a cast of nonprofessional actors from the area which they're chronicling onscreen, which you're able to explore in greater detail in an extra feature contained on the Blu-ray release.
While the less that's said about the plot, the better -- perhaps more than a majority of the other 2010 foreign film Oscar nominees – this title benefits the most from viewing first in your home so you can rewind certain scenes, analyze lines, discuss it aloud and perhaps watch it a second time to better appreciate the contexts, clues and layers throughout.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
Labels: Blu-ray Review