Sunday, October 19, 2014

LAILA'S BIRTHDAY (2008) is a Party

Rashid Masharawi, director of 1994's CURFEW, again shines in creating a cross-section of Palestinians through the perspective of being in an enclosed space.  In a manner not totally unlike that in the 1994 film, the taxi is a place where the claustrophobic angst produces a reaction akin to Existentialist art.  The character's ever-compounding problems begin to get more absurd throughout the day shown in the short 71 minutes that total its running time, until he literally comes to a point where he uses a megaphone to bewail what cruel fates have befallen him.
The film is also subversive, representing the PLO as bungling bureaucrats that are more concerned about themselves that the Palestinian people, a Kafka-like construction of redundancy in office.  Mohammed Bakri, who plays Abu Laila, is a judge who has just recently returned to Palestine to serve his country as a judge.  But due to ineptitude, structural instability, and crass politicking, the government refuses to process him into the system and put him on the bench.  Instead, his days are spent driving a cab he does not even own.
As the day progresses, Abu Laila encounters a string of characters who represent various elements of the social landscape.  Mourners, revolutionaries, a wedding party, all of them provide the audience the sort of essential characteristics Masharawi feels help define a genuine understanding of the conflict.  Abu Laila is a secularist and civil judge, neither his wife or daughter wear hijab, and so it is a character that Western audiences can especially identify with.
Of course, the classic film in the American canon about taxis, Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER, comes to mind when viewing the film.  Travis Bickle is an insane man in a sane world.  But here, Abu Laila is the sane man in an insane world, as made clear by his climactic outburst.  But both men do share a very similar kind of trauma in regards to both are impacted by military violence.  This feeling of angst is indicative in the way that Abu Leila increasingly polices passengers for smoking, riding while not wearing a seatbelt, or other technicalities.  In being able to enforce and control just one part of his extremely bizarre day, the interior of the taxi, he in fact represents a sense of control over space that defines the Palestinian relationship to the land and the feeling of being de-legitimated from it.  He carries a letter signed by Yasser Arafat himself, and yet the government refuses to accept his legitimacy.  The sense of the PLO as hopeless is a major theme here.

No comments:

Post a Comment