Set in a 1964 Arab village in Galilee near the Lebanese border, director Ali Nassar's "The Milky Way" mixes a complex brew of history, politics and fictional melodrama to generally well-orchestrated effect. Crisp, colorful and involving feature should stir some attention at home and at fests, with possibility of select international broadcast exposure.

Set in a 1964 Arab village in Galilee near the Lebanese border, director Ali Nassar’s “The Milky Way” mixes a complex brew of history, politics and fictional melodrama to generally well-orchestrated effect. Crisp, colorful and involving feature should stir some attention at home and at fests, with possibility of select international broadcast exposure.

This unnamed village has been under Israeli military rule since 1948, when several of its inhabitants were killed or forced into exile. Among those traumatized back then were local half-wit Mabruq, who lost his parents nearby, and his crush object, Jamilah, who has been mute since seeing her mother killed and possibly being raped herself. Both are marginal but tolerated parts of everyday life, which stubbornly goes on despite escalating arrests, property seizures and harassment. The mukhtar, head of the local elders’ council, mediates between local interests and the military governor — a job that corrupts, although he does try to serve everyone’s best interests.

That may mean finding a scapegoat when Israeli authorities discover valuable work permits have been forged. Lest the village economy grind to a halt, the mukhtar helps point a finger at innocent, but politically troublesome, schoolteacher Ahmad. He’s promptly beaten, hauled off to jail, and his home ransacked. Mabruq’s high-principled handyman friend Mahmmud determines to uncover the true culprit.

When he does, the answer is surprising — and resulting circumstances inadvertently set off a rage in the mukhtar’s layabout would-be-playboy son, Muhammad. Latter (who happens to covet Mahmmud’s fiancee) is soon killed under accidental but suspicious-looking circumstances, forcing Mahmmud on the lam. At the end, the mukhtar swallows his grief and makes a noble, just sacrifice to preserve the village’s fragile peace.

From the opening sequence’s deft, humorous sweep through various soon-to-be-familiar personalities at their everyday chores, Moscow-educated, Galilee-born director Nassar maintains a secure grasp on a large narrative canvas. While script’s insistence on so many subplots means that not all pay off equally (and the last half-hour’s suspense seems a tad lax), the strong cast and assured pace keep one constantly engaged. “The Milky Way” stops short of being truly memorable — but it’s a notably ambitious achievement for a director whose sole prior feature (“The Nursemaid”) was released 14 years ago.

Lensing and other tech aspects are high-grade.

The Milky Way

Israeli

Production

A Sanabel Prods. presentation. Produced, directed by Ali Nassar. Executive producer, Muhammad Bakriah. Screenplay, Nassar, Ghalib Sha'ath.

Crew

Camera (color), Amnon Salomon; editors, Era Lapid, Tova Asher; music, Nachum Heiman; costumes, Yael Rubin. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (Cinema of Today), Aug. 27, 1997. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Mahmmud - Muhammad Bakri Mabruq - Suheil Haddad The Mukhtar - Makram Khoury Military Governor - Yussef Abu Warda Ahmad - Mahmmud Abu Jazi Muhammad - Salim Dhau Jamilah - Mihaela Mitraki
With: Ahmad Abu-Salom, Khaled Awad, Amal Murkus, Gassan Abbas, Lutuf Neser, Mahmmud Kadah, Maisaa Hamees.
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