When I Saw You (2012) / ما شفتك Lamma Shoftak

Posted: June 8, 2014 in Arabic, Drama
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When_I_Saw_You_(film)

Palestine / Jordan / Greece 2012

Director: Annemarie Jacir

Writer: Annemarie Jacir

Runtime: 98 mins

A thoughtful meditation on a displaced people, but lacking in drama

When I Saw You is the latest directorial offering from Annemarie Jacir, the first female Palestinian director. The story explores the response of the Palestinians to Israel’s victory in the six-day war of 1967, after which refugees flooded over the borders into Jordan. However, this is not an exploration of Middle Eastern politics, but rather a more personal examination of people’s lives.

Young Tarek (Mahmoud Asfa) occupies a makeshift shack with his mother Ghaydaa (Ruba Blal) in a Jordanian refugee camp. Neither of them know the whereabouts of Tarek’s father, and it is slightly ambiguous as to whether his absence is connected to the war or to conflict at home. Tarek hates life in the camp and wants to go home, not understanding why they cannot just do so. His naive desire to return back where they have come from, shorn of all political understanding, effectively symbolizes the need of all people to live in the place they call home. However, despite the unpleasantness of  life in the camp, Ghaydaa believes this is the safest place for them to be. We see her trying to educate Tarek about science, though Tarek himself cannot read and is thrown out of school because he is disruptive to the other children.

When Tarek runs away to try and find his home, he is discovered by a “fedayeen”, a freedom fighter, who takes Tarek to his training camp where the boy is welcomed as one of their own. Shortly afterwards Ghaydaa tracks Tarek down. She plans to take him back to the camp, of course, but abandons this plan when she hears that napalm bombs have been dropped on the camps, as these are considered to be “recruiting grounds” for fedayeen. To his mother’s dismay, Tarek increasingly identifies with the fedayeen (which include women as well as men) and wants to be part of their fight. We never actually see any fighting, though, only training exercises led by Abu Akram (Ali Elayan), a commander who preaches class consciousness rather than religion, and who emphasizes the virtues of patience.

The film itself has an atmosphere of stillness about it. The people in the refugee camps are waiting, as are the fedayeen, all waiting – they know not how long – for the day they will reclaim their homeland. Whereas many contemporary films are filled with shaky camera action, almost all the scenes in When I Saw You are shot with a steady camera, which serves to emphasise the feeling of stillness and patience. Ultimately, though – despite a somewhat unexpected ending – the film’s meditative emphasis on a people waiting does result in a story rather lacking in drama.

Rating: 6/10

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