Film Follies, Subtitle Subversive

Subtitle Subversive-The Time That Remains

It is not my habit to politicize the Film Follies section of this blog, I leave that to my Discourse of the Day posts, but some films are by their nature political and it would be irresponsible of me to pretend otherwise. This has been a bad year for Israeli-Palestinian relations, as most years are. Given the renewed tensions following Donald Trump’s reckless relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem I felt it was time to finally sit down and watch a movie that has been on my list since it came out almost ten years ago. In this edition of Subtitle Subversive, I review Elia Suleiman’s The Time That Remains.
The film is a semi-autobiographical examination of the nation of Israel from its founding in 1948 to the present day told from the perspective of the Palestinian minority. Specifically from the point of view of Suleiman’s father and then later Suleiman himself. As far as a plot goes that is about all I can say. There is no overarching momentum or story. Quite the contrary, the only thing that progresses over the course of the film is time and really that is the point. That after sixty years the Palestinians remain a subjugated minority living in the same segregated neighborhoods they were forced into sixty years ago, forever caught in a cycle dashed hopes and systemic oppression.
With that kind of plot summary, it would be easy for you to assume that The Time That Remains is a bleak and depressing film and you would be half right. The movie is depressing but in a bittersweet kind of way. It is possessed of a dark, wry humor that deals head on with the absurdity of everyday life in occupied Palestine. The film invokes a wide array of emotions but taken as a whole it is best described as a melancholy smile. Elia Suleiman composes a love letter to both his father and his non-existent country, while still creating a stinging rebuke of violence and the current political situation. The movie is funny but when you laugh it is with the same heavy heart with which you laugh at jokes in a eulogy.
That Suleiman can invoke such varied and deeply felt emotions from what on the surface is a very simple film is a testament to both his understanding of the conflict that has dominated his personal life and the expertise he has achieved in his professional one. His unique use of framing, his reliance on naturalism, his patience and willingness to subvert visual expectations make this film not simply important in a political sense but also in a cinematic one.
The Time That Remains should be required viewing. Not just for film students or those hoping to better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But for all of us. It is that rare film that will make you angry, sad, and hopeful at the same time. Angry that such injustice can continue in this world. Sad that suffering seems to be inevitable. And hopeful that if we can hang on to our compassion and our sense of humor that you may be wrong about all this being inevitable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.