The Time That Remains (Chronicle Of A Present Absentee)
Writer-director Elia Suleiman again interweaves the personal and the political in the third film in his wryly observed Palestinian trilogy, following on from Chronicle of a Disappearance and Divine Intervention. Inspired by his own memories, his father’s diaries and his mother’s letters to exiled relatives, The Time that Remains spans some five decades. Its four episodes stretch from the creation of the modern-stay state of Israel in 1948, where Suleiman’s dad Fuad (Saleh Bakri) was arrested and tortured for resistance activities in Nazareth, to the recent Intifada in the Occupied Territories. The emphasis throughout is on how historical events impact upon the everyday lives and routines of his family and their friends and neighbours.
An impassive, silent Suleiman plays a version of himself ES, who acts as a ghostly observer figure, and the filmmaker heeds Chaplin’s maxim that ‘Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.’ Certainly the film’s deadpan comic sensibility is expressed in the director’s formal choices: characters are carefully framed in static compositions, and the lengthy sequence shots keep the camera at some distance from the unfolding drama. Repetition is also important to the sight gags: see for example the character of the elderly neighbour, who is repeatedly unsuccessful in his efforts at self-immolation, or the fishing trips invariably interrupted by Israeli patrols. The drawback, however, to Suleiman’s austere approach is that one feels, even in the closing scenes with the dying mother (Shafika Bajjali), a degree of emotional distancing. Yet some of the images here eloquently convey the absurdity of everyday existence for Palestinian citizens in Israel – it’s fantasy which allows Suleiman to pole vault over the West Bank ‘security’ wall.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 28 May-Thu 10 Jun.