Film review : Amreeka (2009)

I don’t do film reviews, this one, however, deserves one.

Part documentary, part tragic comedy, Amreeka follows the travails of a Palestinian mother and her teenage son as they travel from the battle-hardened streets of the Palestinian Territories to small-town America.

This isn’t just a film about the difficulties and intricacies of cultural adjustment and integration. Nor does it focus too much on the usual subtext of unrecognized experience and the taxi-driving doctors (or in this case burger-flipping bank employee).

It’s much more than that.

It digs into the subconscious of a mother who wants desperately a better, safer, and less-hassle filled life for her son. And subsequently taps the veins of the vast divide that separates Arab and Jew in Israel and Palestine; the insecurities, fears and bitterness of both painted through the interrogations at check points leading in and out of Bethlehem.

Once arrived in the US, the film jumps into the immigrant experience – one that is shaped by economic, social and cultural insecurities and that marks a generational tug-of-war between traditional and adopted values, between a desire to remain different and a desire to become the same.

Simultaneously, the film delves into the nascent racism and hostility stirred in the US by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the backlash against American Muslims and Arabs, and the subsequent challenges of multiculturalism in the world’s melting pot.  Perhaps purposeful, those who display an openness towards these newcomers are portrayed as societal outcasts – the divorced Principal, the blue-haired clerk, the beautiful and intelligent geek. A sad reminder perhaps of how limited our liberal attitudes towards those who don’t resemble us really is.

In doing so, the film quietly ponders several questions  that transcend geography and historical conflict related to belonging,  injustice and ultimately of our definitions of cultural and social identity.

This is a deep movie. Without a doubt the best movie I’ve seen this year, if not in ages.

Go see it (it also won a prizes at Cannes which testifies that critics far less naïve than I thought it worth seeing).


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