SALT OF THIS SEA (Annemarie Jacir, Palestine/France). 105 minutes. Saturday (October 25), 6:30 pm, Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor West).
The descendent of Palestinian refugees, Brooklyn-born Soraya (Suheir Hammad) is righteously indignant when she visits her homeland to make claims to what once belonged to her grandfather.
After demanding that the hospitable Jewish owner vacate her ancestral home, she finds comfort in the passive rationality of Emad (Saleh Bakri), a local Palestinian who looks worn down by his country's politics as he escorts Soraya through a land he's eager to flee.
The characters' political polarity engages, but the script force-feeds them heavy-handed speeches. Crafty and melancholic shots of Palestine's rubble, border checkpoints and secured fences speak more effectively about a bitter country's political stagnation than the kind of dialogue that belongs in pamphlets.
DRIVING TO ZIGZIGLAND (Nicole Ballivian, U.S./Palestine). 92 minutes. Sunday (October 26), 4 pm, Bloor Cinema.
Out of gas soon after it begins, Driving To Zigzigland is an obtuse comedy about Bashar (Bashar Da'as), a Palestinian actor who tries his luck auditioning for roles in Los Angeles while driving a cab to make ends meet.
It's a one-shtick show that repeatedly has Bashar sparring with Westerners who have tunnel vision. Directors and riders in his taxi can only see him as a terrorist.
Such old gags don't ever feel new when the cast and crew seem worse than amateur and the idea of comic timing gets lost entirely. Bashar is not a rounded character but a megaphone, relaying Arab angst loudly but not articulately.
THE OLIVE HARVEST (Hanna Elias, Palestine/Israel). 90 minutes. Sunday (October 26), 7 pm, Bloor Cinema.
A recently released political prisoner (Mazen Saade) returns to his village with his city-worker brother (Taher Najeeb) only to fall in love with the latter's secret girlfriend (Raida Adon).
The fight between the two brothers over a village girl so rooted in the land - she picks olives - is an obvious metaphor for the situation in Palestine. But The Olive Harvest becomes a laughable soap opera that drains away any social relevance. Much of my frustration with this love triangle stems from how the characters make simple decisions unnecessarily complicated, such as when Taher keeps his girlfriend a secret from his brother for so long.
A subplot involving the relationship between a traditional village father and a city-dwelling daughter played by the charming Arren Umari proves more fruitful, but since it's not the focus, the film does little to harvest those rewards.
SLINGSHOT HIP HOP (Jackie Reem Salloum, Palestine). 87 minutes. November 1, 9 pm, Bloor Cinema.
Just as stateside rap has been siphoned of all its relevance, a hip-hop movement pops up in a country that barely allows its people to move.
Jackie Reem Salloum's grassroots documentary Slingshot Hip Hop is like a ground-zero tour of the Israeli-Palestine conflict with young Arab rappers as our guides. Spitting lyrics instead of throwing rocks, the young talents take us to devastated areas, army shootouts and the notoriously backed-up checkpoints that they never can get through.
It's a refreshing take on the conflict that pays attention to details you wouldn't normally notice, and it benefits from the rappers' natural ability for finding the best words to contextualize their situation.
Also, it's profoundly uplifting when politico hip-hop can once again transcend borders, from the West Bank to Tel Aviv, even though the rappers themselves can't.