Director: Elia Suleiman
‘The Time That Remains’ is the third part of Elia Suleiman’s trilogy about the place of the Palestinian people in the modern state of Israel, following ‘Chronicle of a Disappearance’ (1996) and ‘Divine Intervention’ (2002). It’s his most ambitious film to date, tackling the sixty year history of Israel as seen through the eyes of the Suleiman family, based on the diaries of his father and his own memories. Its structure is loose and episodic, concentrating on a handful of pivotal moments in Israeli history, such as the collapse of the Arab resistance in 1948 and the death of Nasser (the President of Egypt and ‘leader’ of the Arab Nation) in 1970, and using the Suleiman family as a benchmark of the position of Palestinians within the state. Suleiman smartly doesn’t go in for showing the “bigger picture”, but shows how these events affected people on a more basic, domestic level.
Suleiman plays a thinly veiled version of himself, who remains a silent, passive observer to what occurs around him, though his presence is vital as a foil to more active characters. His performance hangs on a series of mannerisms and gestures, coupled with his hangdog expression, and is completely in keeping with the absurd and blackly comic nature of the film. Its surreal approach to serious history is similar to that of Emir Kusturica, and even someone like Beckett couldn’t invent its sheer strangeness. As the film develops, a sequence of bizarre events take place, more so in the current day, as if Suleiman is suggesting nothing could change in the area. A young Palestinian man speaks on his mobile phone, oblivious to the fact a tank is about five minutes away and its cannon is pointed right at him! As he walks around and changes position, the cannon subtly shifts, never losing its focus. A crazed neighbour attempts to commit suicide every day but fails, and has interesting logic about the political situation. The Israeli Army and Palestinian civilians fight over a wounded Palestinian on a hospital trolley. ‘The Time That Remains’ could have, in lesser hands, been a worthy, didactic, political film about the history between Israel and Palestinian, but Suleiman’s approach succeeds – mainly because it would have been impossible to do it justice in a more conventional fashion.