Monday.Night — 04.16.01 – Reading Group at 16 Beaver

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Monday.Night — 04.16.01 – Reading Group at 16 Beaver
1. About This Monday
2. About the Chronicle of a Disappearance
3. Reviews
1. About This Monday
Film Screening & Discussion: Chronicle of a Disappearance
(with Kamran Rastegar)
April 16, 2001, 8pm @ 16 Beaver Street, 5th Floor
This Monday, as part of a series of film screenings & discussions that will take place
at 16 Beaver and other TBA locations, there will be a presention of Chronicle Of A
Disappearance (dir. Elia Suleiman).
The series of films will center around the questions of Palestine and different
representations of the situation ranging from fictional tales to documentaries.
Each screening will be followed by a discussion with an invited discussant.
This Monday’s discussion of the film will be lead by Kamran Rastegar currently at
the Whitney ISP & a PhD candidate at Columbia University
(Time permitting, we will also screen Cyber Palestine)
2. About the Chronicle of a Disappearance
a. What does it mean to be Palestinian in the second half of the Twentieth Century? Elia Suleiman was born in Nazareth in 1960. After twelve years in exile, living in New York, Suleiman returns to the land of his birth.
b. In this political comedy, filmmaker and star Elia Suleiman returns to his Palestinian homeland after spending 12 years studying film in New York. What follows is a series of vignettes expressing the director’s personal views on the quality of contemporary Israeli-Arab life. Suleiman won the New Director’s Showcase Special Jury Prize at the 1997 Seattle International Film Festival and Best First Feature Film award at the 1996 Venice Film Festival.
c. Chronicle of a Disappearance is a journey in search of what it means to be Palestinian. It is a compilation of possible truths, transgressing genres and blending fact with fiction to explore the intertwined boundaries of naming, storytelling, history and autobiography.
The character E.S. (Elia Suleiman) is the film maker himself. E.S. moves in a social and political labyrinth. The characters in the film wander through this circular labyrinth in an attempt to break free from their ghettoized existence. The film depicts a situation of status, characterized by deprivation, disillusionment and lack of action. It explores the effects of ghettoization and marginalization on the Palestinian psyche. The characters live a life on the margin – a mundane yet surreal reality. They daydream. They speak plenty and say little. They mock (themselves), hold grudges against themselves, mediate time with estrangement. And when their silence prevails, it tells of their endurance. E.S. experiences the rift between his native place and himself. He begins to inquire into his sense of belonging, his role and the insider/outsider. He moves in and out between being a character and being an observer, a mediator and storyteller; a storyteller who find himself in the absence of a story.
3. Reviews
a. Review from John Hartl
‘Chronicle’ studies Palestinian idenity | John Hartl
Elia Suleiman, the star-writer-director of this wry Palestinian film, looks like a deadpan, blobbier edition of Robert Downey Jr. He directs like a Middle Eastern version of Jacques Tati. His long-distance setups emphasize lengthy takes that survey a whole scene, as a couple of Nazareth shopkeepers survey passing tourists, or they get their picture taken, or they stop a squabble between men who park their car in front of the place.
In a scene that could have been lifted from Tati’s Oscar-winning Mon Oncle, a young scamp whistles at two people who become so distracted by the noise that they collide on the street. In one brief, absurd episode that establishes a relationship entirely through body language, two friends accidentally meet, pat each other and light each other’s cigarettes.
Occasionally the material becomes overtly political. When Israeli cops invade the filmmaker’s home, they behave as if he’s invisible. On the soundtrack, Leonard Cohen sings about being sentenced to 20 years of boredom. A Russian Orthodox priest complains about how the Sea of Galilee has been polluted by years of tourist visits. A young Palestinian woman tries to rent an apartment and faces nonstop discrimination. In an absurdist episode that might have been lifted out of a Keystone Kops comedy, half a dozen Israeli policeman stop to urinate on a wall. The last one finished nearly doesn’t make it into their vanishing van.
The vignettes are interrupted by titles, often amounting to no more than the announcement that the following events take place “the day after.” This gradually turns into a running gag, though it’s a joke with a purpose: The filmmaker, a Nazareth native, sees his fellow Palestinians as trapped in an existence in which each day is pretty much like every other day. At one point, the 36-year-old Suleiman, playing himself, tries to give a Jerusalem lecture about his filmmaking style and (presumably) what he’s learned from studying film in New York and living in the United States for the past 12 years. (His first feature, Chronicle, was partly sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts; last fall, it won a prize for best first feature at the Venice Film Festival.) But feedback keeps interrupting his comments. He never does get to say exactly what his purpose is, though in one interview he called the film “a journey in search of what it means to be Palestinian. . . . the characters wander through a social and political labyrinth in an attempt to break free from their ghettoized existence.” Most of the “actors” are people playing themselves. The movie opens and closes with dozing Palestinian seniors – Suleiman’s parents – finally sleeping through a presentation of the Israeli national anthem. The “disappearance” of the title is Palestinian identity.
b. Review from the Austin Chronicle
This experimental meditation on the psychological effect of political instability on the Palestinian people is the fascinating first feature film of Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman. His movie presents a series of tableaux, seemingly unconnected images and incidents that give the impression that they are searching for a unifying narrative thread. Despite their idiopathic expressiveness, no conventional storyline emerges. But together they create a compelling portrait of marginalization and inaction. Some images: The proprietor of the Holyland souvenir shop uses water from the tap to fill little bottles of holy water. An aunt gossips on and on about family matters. Three men fishing on a motor boat praise Allah and trash-talk everyone they know back on land. A Palestinian actress futilely searches for an apartment to rent in Israeli West Jerusalem. Playing himself, Suleiman tries to address an audience about the content of his upcoming film but is stymied by the technological failure of the PA system. Suleiman’s parents fall asleep to the TV station sign-off and the eerie television glow of the Israeli flag waving on the screen while the national anthem fills the darkened room. Men sit quietly outside the souvenir shop, watching intently as nothing occurs. In long shot, men leap from a car and nearly come to blows. In scene after scene, such as these described, the beginnings of stories almost occur. Yet the elements never seem to find their narrative next step. Instead, they accumulate and become the hues of the filmmaker’s palette, hues that Suleiman uses to create a subjective summary of the unsettled quality of life in his homeland. The use of non-professional actors helps Suleiman sustain the documentary-like flavor of his tableaux; using himself and other family members as actors underscores the movie’s personal relevance and motivation. In addition to playing at such prestige festivals as Sundance and the Museum of Modern Art’s New Director/New Films series, Chronicle of a Disappearance received a prize for best first feature film at the 1996 Venice Film Festival. It’s easy to see why.
c. Review from Sundance Festival (screened in 1997)
This first-time effort from Palestinian director Eli Suleiman is so profound that it teases you with its simplicity. The film, which won the Best First Feature Award at Venice, is structured as a diary The first part, “Nazareth Personal Diary,” begins with a series of delightful and ironic vignettes, slices of life in the Jerusalem countryside. Characters wander in and out and essentially write their own entries. Particularly interesting is a scene of the spot where Jesus supposedly walked on water, which is now so polluted from tourist waste that anyone could walk on it.
In Part Two, “Jerusalem Political Diary,” we finally meet the author and see from his perspective the strange goings-on around him, beginning with a pretty young woman trying to rent an apartment in Jerusalem. In a hilarious series of scenes, the author gets involved in her life when he finds a walkie-talkie belonging to her and her rebel friends planning a coup.
Chronicle of a Disappearance takes us on a journey from realism to surrealism and back again. With its poignant final image, Suleiman chillingly communicates the heartache of Jerusalem, as two elderly Palestinians stare blankly at a TV set broadcasting the national anthem and flag of a foreign nation, Israel.
— Mary Kerr