The Time That Remains

  • Film
  • Comedy
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Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s most eloquent and moving feature to date is a fractured chronicle of two generations of the Arab-Israeli conflict which opens on the armed siege that led to the creation of the state of Israel and closes on a screwball portrait of life in present-day Nazareth and Ramallah. British audiences might know Suleiman from his 2002 film ‘Divine Intervention’, for which he framed the political discontents of the area in a series of acerbic and scrupulously choreographed tableaux and earned himself comparisons to Jacques Tati. The same visual style is applied here, although the tone is more elegiac and the focus is more anguished, more personal.

Suleiman plays a version of himself in the film, but only during its apocalyptic final chapter. The content of much of the film’s opening two-thirds was inspired by the memoirs of his late father, a rebellious, angular gunmaker who – on this evidence – went through great physical and psychological pains to internalise his yearning for political resistance. Though Suleiman depicts the initial coup in grand, wham-bang fashion, this is no action movie, more a dryly comic dissection of the absurd behaviour of people living (and loving) under the clouds of political instability. In a scene where a ‘celebratory’ photograph is taken when the mayor of Nazareth has officially ceded the land to occupying forces, the Palestinian clerics outside the shot are more engrossed by the photographer’s backside than the rictus grin of their superior.

Repetition is one of the film’s key motifs, and Suleiman is a master of positing an idea then building on it layer by layer as things move on. Often these instances are humorous, such as repeat viewings of an episode when the Suleimans’ depressed neighbour gets drunk then threatens to set himself on fire, only for Elia’s father to unflappably take the matches away from him, then tenderly lead him inside. But they can also be extremely poignant, such as the simple, beautifully composed shot of Elia’s elderly mother quietly drinking coffee on the balcony, contemplating her troubled past and uncertain future. In one tear-jerking variation of this set-up, a firework display erupts in the background and both Elia and his mother appear unaffected – the suggestion being that the constant ringing of gunfire throughout their lives has numbed them to its beauty.

The problem with ‘The Time That Remains’ is that once it’s over, it’s the limitations rather than the possibilities of Suleiman’s style that linger in the mind. You find yourself worrying about what he’ll do next rather than being excited by the prospect of another sojourn in his singularly deadpan universe.

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday May 28 2010
Duration: 110 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Elia Suleiman
Screenwriter: Elia Suleiman
Cast: Elia Suleiman
Saleh Bakri
Ali Suliman

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