Alam | Film Threat

Mar 11, 2023

SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! The Palestinian perspective is admittedly a new point of view for me. The little that I do hear in the media is usually skewed towards a negative representation of their culture. The cinematic arts is a way for us to walk in other’s shoes, so seeing things in a different light is refreshing, especially since Hollywood recycles the same stories and concepts over and over again.
Writer/director Firas Khoury’s Arab feature debut film, Alam (which translates to “flag”), is about a typical seventeen-year-old boy named Tamer (Mahmood Bakri). He loves video games, smoking pot, and just taking it easy until he meets the strikingly stunning Maysaá (Sereen Khass). He decides to join a mission with their radical friend Safwat (Muhammad Abed Elrahman) to raise the Palestinian flag on Israel’s Independence Day, which is also a day of mourning for Palestinians called Al Nakba. It’s significant because that is the day Palestinian residents were forced to leave their homelands.
Safwat is quite vocal in their classroom and outside of it about how Israelis have rewritten Palestinian history to paint themselves in a brighter light. Tamer has stayed away from politics up to this point in his life because his Uncle Naji (Saleh Bakri) was tortured and imprisoned for his revolutionary activities. Tamer’s father (Amer Hlehel) is always telling his son to stay away from the trouble that political rallies and actions can lead to.

“…decides to join a mission…to raise the Palestinian flag on Israel’s Independence Day…”
Alam does involve a healthy dose of politics, but there is also a lot of human, down to Earth moments as well. There are scenes of Tamer just being a typical teenager and hanging out with friends (which we never see in the media here). There’s a moment where Maysaá sings a beautiful song to Tamer. My favorite moment is at a wedding where we get to see the celebration of Palestinian culture in such a gorgeous (and newfound to me) light.
The performances are all top-notch. The main trio of Mahmood Bakri, Sereen Khass, and Muhammad Abed Elrahman all shine, but in different ways. Bakri and Khass share a nice chemistry, which is essential to believe that Tamer would risk his laid-back way of life for Maysaá.
The cinematography by Frida Marzouk is excellent, with many great wide shots as opposed to close-ups. Of course, things do not go as planned on the teen’s flag mission, but the filmmaker injects some comedic moments to lighten the heaviness of what just happened. Striking that kind of balance can be difficult, but Khoury pulls it off. It all adds up to a quite successful debut. Alam is an enjoyable viewing experience, which many films dealing with politics are not. I credit the filmmaker for the humanity that he’s instilled into the picture.
The media and society, in general, love to label groups of people as “the others.” But throughout the world, we have more in common than we realize. It takes films like Alam to see that we’re all in this together.
Alam screened at the 2023 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

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