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[whitespace] 'Cinemayaat'
New Life in a New Land: Arab immigrants seek laughter amid the hard times in 'Cinemayaat,' directed by Abdel Kechiche.

Refugees and Dreamers

Cinemayaat brings varied visions of Arab filmmaking to the Towne

By Richard von Busack

ELODIE BOUCHEZ was unforgettable as the street girl in The Dream Life of Angels; by contrast, she's quite forgettable as the street girl in Poetical Refugee, part of the local leg of the Cinemayaat, the Arab Film Festival, playing at the Towne Theater Sept. 8-9. (Cinemayaat's various programs are also showing throughout September at the Fine Arts in Berkeley and the Roxie in San Francisco.) Abdel Kechiche's film (which screens Sept. 8 at 6:15pm), like Last Resort earlier this year, shows the limbo in which refugees in Europe live. At first, Kechiche takes the Billy Wilder approach: showing us hard laughter among the illegal immigrant Arabs who figure out ploys to stay put.

Our hero, Jallel (Sami Bouajila), is from Tunis and has only slipped into France to support his family back home. He meets a delightful if impetuous half-Tunisian French girl (the luscious Aure Atika), but the seemingly smooth process of marrying her is interrupted. Jallel is committed to a hospital, where he meets Lucie (Bouchez), a gritty prostitute. If the plot seems to have twisted itself out of shape, the problem is twofold: first, the shift in tone from hard-knocks street life to sweet romance; second, the ordinarily poised Bouchez's unforgivable overacting.

Among the other films are rare chances to see into the conflict of changing values in the Mideast and North Africa. British Victorian slang for unattended gangs of poor children was "street Arabs." Ali Zaoua, Prince de la rue (Sept. 9 at 3:40pm) is indeed a tale of street Arabs, Moroccan kids running loose in Casablanca (which--and Bogart fans must remember this--is actually a cold, drizzly and poor city). No Man's Love (Sept. 9 at 6:15pm) is a Tunisian melodrama with a plot about a scuba diver haunted by the death of his sister, who is lured by necessity into a hazardous dive for sunken treasure.

Cinemayaat also features a film by Egypt's Yoursy Nousrallal on the loaded subject of sexual identity. In The City (Sept. 8 at 4pm), a Cairene accountant (Bassem Samra) leaves Egypt to become a boxer in clandestine fights. The Closed Doors (Sept. 9 at 8:40pm), directed by Nousrallal's assistant Atef Hetata, is the story of a young man whose first adolescent urges lead him to temporarily embrace fundamentalism. City Dreams (Sept. 9 at 1pm) is Mohammad Malas' autobiographical film about growing up during the turbulent 1950s in Syria.

Cinemayaat, the Arab Film Festival runs Sept. 8-9 at the Towne Theater in San Jose. Check www.aff.org for details.

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From the September 6-12, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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