"This is about the waiting experience"

from Waiting directed by Rashid Masharawi from Waiting directed by Rashid Masharawi from Waiting directed by Rashid Masharawi
Images from Waiting. They link to silkroadproduction.com where a trailer is available

Caine Grennets reviews the latest work by Palestian film director Rashid Masharawi. Waiting is set around the refugee camps of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon

The day after Israel bombed the beach in Gaza on June 9, wounding 40 and killing three children and seven adults enjoying a family picnic, the Sydney Film Festival premiered the Palestinian road-movie, Waiting.

In an opening sequence, a Palestinian actor-director, on his way to the Rafah crossing in Gaza to catch a flight from Cairo after his father’s funeral, stops by to visit an old friend, now in charge of construction of the European Union-funded National Palestinian Theatre. He is persuaded to lead up auditions for actors for the grand opening, not only in the Occupied Territories, but also in the camps in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

At a beachside cafe in Gaza, he meets his colleague for this journey, a young women reporter for the bombed-out Palestinian TV, niece of the head of the National Theatre-to-be. Vying for control - and with opposing approaches to the selection process - both in their own ways are world-weary and cynical about the plight of the Palestinians, yet still doing what they can for national survival.

The director and those he auditions know the chances of the theatre being opened are slim, along with the EU-funded airport, port and hospital in Gaza, all now bombed and closed. One would-be actor sums it up well: “So we can have our own national theatre but not a state?”

The auditions, with every camp resident desperate to be filmed either to get home to Palestine “earlier”, or to get messages to family in the Occupied Territories, provoke pathos and despair, as well as moments of self-critical satire, culturally so similar to that of Jews. The film renders deeply human portraits of Palestinian women and men refugees, without the air-brushing of romantic liberation epics or the cartoon stereotypes of western propaganda films.

The glamorous television journalist warms up each session with a sound check of her regular intros: “The Israeli Prime Minister warned…. The European Union expressed concern…. The Palestinian president agrees to… The American president declared….. The United Nations secretary-general pleaded….”

This litany of Oslo-speak sentences without predicates mocks the emptiness of the politicians’ unending negotiations.

The central theme of the film is how to express the waiting of the four million-plus refugees outside Palestine, not only for the Day of Return, but for water, food, travel, jobs, healthcare, people to listen… The would-be actors, already waiting long for their chance in front of the camera, are only directed to act out “waiting”. The crew also, in their own journey, must wait each step of the way to clear political-bureaucratic hurdles. In the film, the terrible humiliating slowness and arbitrariness of the border crossings controlled by Israel, if anything, are understated.

After warm welcomes as emissaries from home in the Syrian camps, the camera man, never before outside Gaza, remarks how idealised the exiles’ views of Palestine are. For the auditioner, the dabke dancing of the cultural troupe in the Palestinian camp in Syria, confronts him in the role of a tourist, visiting his own folkloric culture endlessly retailed in nostalgia and hope, so far from the Gaza polity he left just days before.

The film provides a clever and sensitive survey of the contemporary situations of the main Palestinian communities, both under occupation and in exile, and shows how the decades long wait for liberation, national self-determination and return, play out in the daily realities of the lives of eight million people, kept waiting, separated from land, work and loved ones. It weaves between moments of black humour, moments of defiance, and moments of infinite sadness, such as at the bare mass grave at the Shatilla camp in Beirut.

Caine Grennets


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