The absurdities and complexities of life in contempo Amman are presented with pleasingly understated humor in “The Last Friday,” a wittily stylized drama from tyro Jordanian helmer-scribe Yahya Al Abdallah. This small but extremely well-crafted tale of a divorced, downwardly mobile taxi driver trying to gather the funds for essential surgery has a singular tone that is both pensive and gently comic. Making inspired use of his tiny production budget, Abdallah reps a fresh new voice in Arab-language arthouse cinema, and “Friday” marks him as a talent to watch. Pic nabbed three prizes at the Dubai fest.
Forty-year-old Youssef (Ali Suliman, “Paradise Now,” “Lemon Tree”) lives alone in a shabby apartment in the capital’s scenic Al Webdeh neighborhood. His finances are so precarious that he resorts to stealing his neighbor’s electricity, and now his situation is even more critical because he needs to prepay the hospital.
Youssef used to be a top salesman at a luxury car dealership, but his poker habit led to the loss of his money, his house and divorce from the beautiful Dalal (Yasmine Al Masri). It wounds Youssef’s male pride that he can’t afford to give their tween son Imad (Fadi Arida) the advantages that Dalal’s wealthy new husband can provide.
Youssef’s life consists of small indignities that he accepts with a weary grace: Someone steals his parking spot and his parking sticker, his arrogant boss (Abdul Kareem Abu Zayad) cheats him, and Imad secretly steals money from his pocket. The lad, who cycles between his mother’s large new home and Youssef’s apartment, is doing poorly in school, something that precipitates a showdown between his parents.
Helmer Abdallah the stages the pic’s action in carefully composed mise-en-scene, allowing small details to speak louder than words. Indeed, dialogue is minimal throughout, emphasizing the isolation in which Youssef now lives. The fact that everyone around him has a cell phone, something he can no longer afford, plays to comic effect.
The dearth of dialogue also emphasizes the pic’s complex soundtrack, comprised of layers of traffic noise, radio, television, other people’s overheard conversations and the sounds of nature. Music is purely diegetic.
Minimalist thesping from the mixed cast of vets and new faces is done in an emotive deadpan style closer to Elia Suleiman than Aki Kaurismaki. Suliman’s intelligent, evocative performance justly won the Dubai fest’s actor kudo.
Pic was shot on the Red One camera in an astounding 55 locations over 18 days, and Rachel Aoun’s hard-edged, deep-focus lensing highlights the varied scenery of Amman as well as its hilliness. Production design in earth tones of yellow, green and brown throws the city’s white stone buildings into sharp relief. Melancholy music by Le Trio Joubran, heard primarily under the closing credits, was a surprise winner of the Dubai fest’s score award.
Title derives from the fact that Youssef needs to pay for his operation by the approaching Friday.
Pic is part of the Royal Film Commission of Jordan’s Educational Feature Film Program, an initiative providing a budget roughly equivalent to $100,000.