×

The Time That Remains: Chronicle of a Present Absentee

The Never-ending Story between Arabs and Jews gets another wryly humorous workout.

With:
With: Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri, Leila Muammar, Yasmine Haj, Tarek Qubti, Zuhair Abu Hanna, Ayman Espanioli, Samar Qudha Tanus, Shafika Bajjali. (Arabic, Hebrew dialogue)

The Never-ending Story between Arabs and Jews gets another wryly humorous workout, marbled with personal sadness and mystification, in “The Time That Remains,” Palestinian Elia Suleiman’s third leg of his long-in-the works trilogy on his people’s place in the modern state of Israel. Inspired by his father’s diaries, and the writer-helmer’s own memories, vignettish pic is both more rigorously fashioned and a lighter sit than “Chronicle of a Disappearance” (1996) or “Divine Intervention” (2002), coming close at times to fringe theater, with Suleiman almost an outside observer. Moderate returns look likely among upscale viewers.

Those expecting a more ambitious, large-scale treatment of the subject — from the initial announcement pic was to be a semi-autobiographical history of Suleiman’s family from 1948 to the present — may well feel let down. “Time” is essentially “Divine” with a more personal and historical edge: A succession of small events, running jokes and ironic observations in the director’s Tati-esque style. Almost perversely, Suleiman avoids referencing most of the key political markers of the past 60 years, holding his focus tightly on a small family and neighbors in his home town of Nazareth.

Framing device (which could be eliminated) has “E.S.,” as he’s billed in closing crawl (Suleiman), taking a taxi from the airport as he arrives in Israel. As the cab gets caught in a sudden thunderstorm, the tone turns mystical as he asks the — rather obvious — question, “Where am I?”

Pic’s five subsequent sections, each about 20 minutes long, are separated simply by fadeouts, with no date captions — though it’s not difficult to guess the periods from implanted info.

Initially, it’s 1948, with Arab resistance falling apart and the mayor of Nazareth — in a scene which augurs the movie’s often tableau-like style — signing an official surrender to the Israeli army. Though several members of his family move abroad (notably to Jordan), Fuad Suleiman (Saleh Bakri, charismatically handsome) still believes in armed resistance, which leads to his arrest, beating and near death.

The immaculate visual style, with every shot geometrically composed and figures always set against either Nazareth’s postcard-pretty lanes or placid, picturesque landscapes, immediately establishes a formalism that’s echoed in the perfs (a bizarre character here, a silent observer there) and use of minimal resources to sketch larger events (a couple of army jeeps, a brief burst of gunfire, a handful of soldiers). This is, in effect, microcosmic theater, ironically playing out scattered moments from an often bloody history of occupation in beautiful, sun-bathed locations.

Second seg shifts to 1970, with Fuad’s young son, Elia (Zuhair Abu Hanna), scolded at school for calling the U.S. “colonialist” and Fuad himself seemingly reconciled to Israeli occupation of his homeland and going on night fishing trips with a friend. Pic succinctly (but also humorously) sketches Israel’s own colonization through a patriotic Hebrew song sung at the school on National Day and the kids being shown the Hollywood Zionist allegory, “Spartacus.”

By now, pic has established a rhythm of repeated scenes and characters — including a mad, foul-mouthed old neighbor (Tarek Qubti) who’s always threatening to immolate himself — which provides some kind of structure to the succession of brief episodes.

As the ’70s wear on, and Elia grows to teenhood (Ayman Espanioli), his inherited sense of injustice leads to him being given 24 hours to leave the country, for some unspecified wrongdoing.

Film starts to develop an emotional pull in the final half-hour, as Elia returns one Christmas as a grown man (Suleiman) to resume his place outside the same corner bar with his mates, and also care for his aging mom (Samar Qudha Tanus). Dialogue, always spare, becomes even more minimalist here — Suleiman himself never speaks — and the helmer’s Buster Keaton-like, hangdog looks provide a silent commentary on the succession of witty sketches, which seem to imply that nothing has changed — or ever will.

As in “Divine,” there’s an uneven quality to Suleiman’s often surreal ideas, but in general there are way more hits than misses this time round, some of them laugh-out-loud. Pic could easily be criticized for lacking upfront political commitment, but there are already enough didactic dramas out there on the same subject to cut Suleiman some slack for his ironic, outsider-ish approach.

Technical package is tops, from Marc-Andre Batigne’s crystal-clear lensing, through the slightly theatrical period design and costuming, to use of source music. Brief effects shots are smoothly integrated. Some trimming of the final modern seg would improve its pacing, which is noticeably more leisurely than the rest of the tightly cut movie.

The Time That Remains: Chronicle of a Present Absentee

France - Belgium - Italy

Production: A Le Pacte release (in France) of the Film presentation of the Film, Nazira Films, France 3 Cinema (France)/Artemis Prods., RTBF (Belgium)/Bim Distribuzione (Italy), in association with Corniche Pictures, Wild Bunch. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Michael Gentile, Elia Suleiman. Executive producer, Hani Farsi. Co-producer, Avi Kleinberger. Directed, written by Elia Suleiman.

Crew: Camera (color), Marc-Andre Batigne; editor, Veronique Lange; art director, Sharif Waked; costumes, Judy Shrewsbury; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Eric Tisserand, Pierre Mertens, Christian Monheim; casting, Juna Suleiman. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 21, 2009. Running time: 110 MIN.

With: With: Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri, Leila Muammar, Yasmine Haj, Tarek Qubti, Zuhair Abu Hanna, Ayman Espanioli, Samar Qudha Tanus, Shafika Bajjali. (Arabic, Hebrew dialogue)

More Film

  • Ryan Simpkins

    Ryan Simpkins Joins Fox-Disney's 'Fear Street' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Simpkins has joined Fox-Disney’s second installment of 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s “Fear Street” trilogy, based on the novels by R.L. Stine. Leigh Janiak is helming all three films. Previously announced cast includes Gillian Jacobs, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, Fred Hechinger, Julia [...]

  • MPAA Logo

    Motion Picture Association of America Hires Emily Lenzner as Communications Chief

    The Motion Picture Association of America has appointed veteran public relations executive Emily Lenzner as its executive VP of global communications and public affairs. She will report to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin and oversee the trade group’s communications team in the U.S. and internationally. Lenzner will start Aug. 1 and be based at the MPAA’s [...]

  • 'Cats' Teaser Trailer: See Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift Unveils Feline Moves in 'Cats' Behind-the-Scenes Teaser

    Taylor Swift fans finally get to see some of the results of all those years spent studying her roommates Meredith and Olivia — and also, not incidentally, some time with a choreographer — in a new behind-the-scenes teaser for the movie “Cats.” The three-and-a-half-minute featurette has footage of Swift striking crouching feline moves as well [...]

  • CGR’s Immersive Premium Format Set for

    Immersive Theater Technology Set for US Debut in Los Angeles

    French multiplex company CGR Cinemas has selected the Regal LA Live as the first U.S. theater to use its Immersive Cinema Experience technology. The ICE format will be unveiled in the fall at the downtown location in a partnership between CGR and AEG. The companies made the announcement Wednesday but did not reveal which title [...]

  • Amazon Developing Original Series Based on

    Amazon Studios Buys 'Selah and the Spades,' Will Develop Original Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Amazon Studios has acquired worldwide rights to “Selah and the Spades,” a gripping look at a prep school drug dealer, Variety has learned. The film marks the feature debut of writer and director Tayarisha Poe and had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it was a favorite with critics. Amazon has [...]

  • The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con

    The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con Parties and Activations

    Hollywood is heading down the California coast to San Diego because It’s time for 2019 Comic-Con International. The annual cosplay celebration officially kicks off tomorrow, July 18, with a preview happening tonight. Here, Variety gives you a guide to this year’s parties and activations. Make sure to check back for updates. Wednesday, July 17Amazon Prime [...]

  • The Wound African Cinema Berlin Film

    Finance Forum Brings African WIP Into Focus at Durban FilmMart

    The 10th edition of the Durban FilmMart, which unspools parallel to the 40th Durban Intl. Film Festival, will feature 10 fiction and 10 documentary works-in-progress taking part in its annual Finance Forum. The leading co-production market on the continent, the Forum brings together producers, distributors, sales agents, broadcasters, funding bodies, and other industry players from across the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content