Alam (A Flag) is directed by Firas Khoury as his debut feature. Beside two major awards, the film also scored Youssef Cherif Rizkallah's $15,000 Audience Award.
Since the beginning of Palestinian cinema in the last quarter of the 20th century, the Israeli occupation has been a major subject in both the Palestinian documentary and narrative films.
It is normal that cinema reflects the hardship of daily life for the Palestinian people whether it is in the Arab occupied territories (the 1967 borders) or inside Israel (the green line). Every part of what might be considered as ordinary life in Palestine contains a side of this political aspect which can generate a powerful atmosphere to the drama.
Alam is one of those films that tells the story of an ordinary life. However, sometimes the simplest life of Palestinian characters might seem confusing is someone lacks information about the situation in the country. For example, knowing the difference between what is happening in the lands that are controlled by the Palestinian Authority (after the Oslo Agreement) and what is happening in the Arab towns inside Israel.
The the film takes place in an Arab town inside Israel, where Palestinians possess Israeli citizenship however, they lack some basic rights in comparison with the Jewish citizens. Alam is about a high school teenager called Tamer (Mahmood Bakri). The introductory scenes give the audience a fair idea about the life and feelings of normal teenagers with their grim attitude and reluctance towards many things in life.
With a similar structure to Ziad Doueiri’s beautiful 1998 film West Beirut, the filmmaker depicts these mixed feelings and the confusion of Tamer’s group of friends in high school. The story develops around this group’s dangerous plan to replace the Israeli flag on the rooftop of the school with the Palestinian flag. It is the eve of Israel’s independence day which represents the Palestinian Nakba or dispossession. It all happened when Tamer’s colleague Safwat (Mohamed Abel-Rahman) suggested the radical act. Tamer was forced to agree because he wanted to impress Maysaa (Jaboor Kawn), a new girl in Tamer’s class.
Abdalla, filmmaker and scriptwriter, manages to draw very carefully all of the characters of the film: Tamer seems to lack any motive in his life, but the film shows the big changes in his life after falling in love with Maysaa. He lives in an annexed room outside his parents’ house which was once his grandfather’s place. While the script shows that his closest friend Shekel (it is his nickname perhaps because of his material personality), is the one who doesn’t care about anything other than drugs, he is actually very supportive to his fiend Tamer. And Safwat appears to be enthusiastic about resistant acts and he is keen to express his ideas towards the forged history of Israel.
Although the title of the film refers to a symbolic notion about the home country, the filmmaker is criticising patriotic clichés in general. In a scene between Tamer and Safwat, the latter said that he didn’t like flags, they are only a piece of cloth with some colours, and he recalls his father saying that raising flags is the first step to freedom but that ultimate freedom is to burn them. His dialogue asserts a much larger meaning of a what home country is.
This review was originally published in the daily Bulletin of the Cairo International Film Festival (13-22 November)