The Time That Remains

A steady stream of sight gags lightens the story of a Palestinian family in The Time That Remains

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Elia Suleiman's follow-up to Divine Intervention is billed as a family saga entwined with a history of Palestine. It is, sort of, but without the epic sweep the description implies. Pieced together from his father's journals and his own memories, Suleiman's film takes the form of a series of hangdog comic tableaux, elegantly staged, shot with ironic stateliness and accompanied by almost no spoken words. Fuad Suleiman (Saleh Bakri) defies the Israeli occupation of Nazareth. He aids the resistance, darting gunfire in sun-drenched streets and maintaining a contemptuous silence when the Israelis haul him in. But the fist comes down, and keeps coming down for decades. Fuad retreats into stoicism. Meanwhile, his son, a stand-in for the director, spends his school days standing outside the classroom as punishment for denouncing US colonialism. It's about as far as the boy's defiance goes. He spends most of his time in a cafe. Nevertheless, he is seen as a rebel and given 24 hours to leave the country. When he returns, he's played by Suleiman: a crumpled, clownish figure amid the grinding absurdities of life under occupation. He lashes out with nothing more than the occasional crooked half-smile. This would all be too wan to bear were it not for a steady stream of sight gags: recent comparisons with Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati overstate the case, but not by much. In the end, Suleiman pits himself against Israeli heavy-handedness with a wonderfully light touch.