Not a lot of films could boast dividing their shooting locations between Israel's West Bank and Winnipeg.

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This article was published 29/10/2009 (4469 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Although the drama heads on a predict­able course, (Nisreen) Faour brings intelligence and humour to her per­formance and (Melkar) Muallem, as the smart adolescent turned surly and scared, is likewise sharp.

Although the drama heads on a predict­able course, (Nisreen) Faour brings intelligence and humour to her per­formance and (Melkar) Muallem, as the smart adolescent turned surly and scared, is likewise sharp.

Not a lot of films could boast dividing their shooting locations between Israel's West Bank and Winnipeg.

In her feature debut, writer-director Cherien Dabis elegantly syncs those worlds-apart landscapes with the story of Muna (Nisreen Faour), a single mother living an unsatisfactory existence in her occupied homeland. Between dodging the sight of her ex-husband and enduring the indignities of negotiating her way through Israeli checkpoints on her way to and from work, life is tough.

It seems a golden opportunity when Muna and her son Fadi (Melkar Muallem) unexpectedly receive confirmations of long-forgotten green card applications allowing them to move to the United States.

Muna worries they will feel like "visitors" but Fadi asserts: "It's better than being prisoners in our own country."

They arrive in suburban Illinois (played by Winnipeg) to live with Muna's sister Raghda (Hiam Abbass of The Visitor), her doctor husband, and their Americanized children.

Unfortunately, the move comes as America is invading Iraq (a sign outside a restaurant bears the prescient prank message "Support Our Oops") and anti-Arab sentiment is high. Raghda's husband is losing his patients, and the family is receiving death threats. (The Jordan-born Dabis herself grew up during the first Gulf War and her family experienced similar hardships.)

Muna, who has worked for years as a banker, can only find work at a White Castle restaurant to contribute money to the household. Meanwhile, Fadi is introduced to the American lifestyle by a sympathetic cousin (Alia Shawkat) but must endure taunts from idiotic fellow students who call him "Osama" and accuse him of carrying a bomb in his backpack.

Dabis does not shy away from making potent points about the follies of prejudice and pride, but a light directorial touch prevents the film from sliding into melodrama.

Her best asset is her lead actress. Faour is wonderfully appealing. Her character endures much, but Faour is attuned to the humour and innate dignity of Muna, and helps create an immigrant story that is both specific and wholly universal.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

 

Other Voices

Selected excerpts from reviews of Amreeka.

Although the drama heads on a predictable course, (Nisreen) Faour brings intelligence and humour to her performance and (Melkar) Muallem, as the smart adolescent turned surly and scared, is likewise sharp.

-- Stephen Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

You keep rooting for these characters, even as the plot takes a series of broad and overly familiar turns.

-- Christopher Kelly, Dallas Morning News

Faour, in an Oscar-worthy performance, renders Muna in shades of love and hope.

-- Mark Savlov, Austin Chronicle

The thriving subgenre of immigrant displacement dramedy gets a confident new spin from Cherien Dabis.

-- Ella Taylor, Village Voice

This slice of American life, as seen through the eyes of Palestinian immigrants, is nuanced, engaging and authentically observed.

-- Claudia Puig, USA Today

A culture-clash dramedy whose background in Middle East conflict is leavened with vibrant energy, balanced politics and droll humour by first-time feature director Cherien Dabis.

-- Rob Nelson, Variety

-- Compiled by Shane Minkin

 

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Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.