| A divorced Palestinian mother and her teenage son immigrate to a small Midwestern town in Illinois shortly after the invasion of Iraq. Writer-director Cherien Dabis makes an impressive feature-film debut. The title is the Arabic word for America.
Muna Farah (Nisreen Faour) is the overweight heroine who wants a better life for her son, Fadi (Melkar Muallem). She idealistically views America as the promised land where her son can attend college with better job prospects.
Despite two degrees and 10 years of banking experience, Muna ends up working at White Castle. Her son gets in a fight after being labeled a terrorist.
Hiam Abbass (“Lemon Tree” and “The Visitor”) plays Muna’s sister Raghda. Muna and Fadi move in with Raghda and her family. Raghda, who has lived with her physician husband in America for 15 years, tells her sister the homesick feeling never goes away. A metaphorical comparison is made to “a tree pulled out by its roots and placed elsewhere” that doesn’t grow.
The movie is insightful in its depiction of Palestinian suffering and the insensitivity of the United States. Faour is very appealing in the lead role, making great use of her hope-filled eyes. Muallem transforms his character before our eyes from a sweet and shy boy to a tough kid standing up for his mother. He gets exposed to slang phrases, marijuana and the right clothing to wear in an effort to assimilate. It makes the viewer wince and feel ashamed of racial stereotyping in our post-9/11 environment.
The message of never judging a book by its cover rings true.
The movie debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and Dabis won the Directors Fortnight Award at the Cannes Film Festival. The dialogue is partially in Arabic with English subtitles.
Now playing exclusively at the Glenwood Arts.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"