Dir: Rashid Masharawi. Palestine-Netherlands. 2002. 84 mins.
Hyped as the scoop at this year's Taormina Film Festival, Ticket To Jerusalem turns out to be a worthy but rather flat and one-sided fable about a Palestinian projectionist trying to show a film in occupied Jerusalem. With its made-in-Palestine tag and its film-on-film theme, it seems tailor-made for the international festival circuit, but it relies heavily on the sympathy vote for its appeal and is unlikely to have much of a life beyond gatherings such as this. It covers the same similarly topical ground as Kandahar, with the Occupied Territories taking the place of Afghanistan. However, it has few of the qualities such as skillful photography or careful editing that made Mohsen Makhmalbaf's feature a European arthouse draw last year.
Jaber (Ghassan Abbas) and his wife Sanah (Areen Omary) live in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Ramallah. Sanah works as a voluntary hospital paramedic, while Jaber drives his battered film projectors around in a jeep to various schools and community halls, where he shows Daffy Duck cartoons to entertainment-starved kids. One day he meets Rabab (Reem Ilo) a schoolteacher, who asks him whether he would be prepared to risk a projection in the Arab quarter of occupied Jerusalem. Fired by the idea, Jaber becomes determined to overcome all the obstacles that stand in his way: the fact that he has no pass, that the school has been occupied by Jewish colonists and that his projectors and his jeep are on the blink.
At times the film's shoestring budget is a boon: the scenes at Israeli checkpoints were shot by sending the actors up to real Israeli soldiers and simply filming the exchanges. With their edge of tension and unpredictability, these are among the strongest and most fascinating sequences in the film. Elsewhere, however, the homemade lighting and the self-conscious smirks of passers-by when they realise they're on camera become somewhat wearing.
There are also moments of humour, as when Jabel's mechanic friend sings the praises of US action movies ("A helicopter exploding into a thousand pieces: that's what I call cinema"). But these are diluted by a lack of shading and nuance in the characters, which carries over into the film's cardboard portrayal of the other side. Too often the Israelis that the audience see are either arrogant soldiers or aggressive squatters.
The film, however, does have one important merit: to show that life in present-day Palestine is only rarely infected by the suffering, violence and hate that fill the TV news bulletins. Frustration, stubborness, boredom, resilience and good humour are the more common, everyday emotions. The everyday backdrops are jerry-built concrete houses, rubble- and rubbish-strewn sections of no man's land and roads that go nowhere. Only the interiors - like the bar of Jaber's friend Abu Anan, or the house that Rabab shares with her elderly mother - survive as an expression of Palestinian life and culture. And it is this that makes Jaber's final, open-air projection such a conquest: it is not just an evening at the movies, but the reclamation of a lost social space.
Prod cos: Argus Film Production, Amsterdam & Cinema Production Center, Ramallah
Co prod: Silkroad Productions
Int'l sales: Orange Worldwide Film Sales
Prod: Peter van Vogelpoel, Masharawi
Cinematography: Baudouin Koenig
Ed: Nestor Sanz, Jan Hendriks
Music: Samir Jubran
Main cast: Ghassan Abbas, Areen Omary, George Ibrahim, Reem Ilo, Imad Farageen