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Movie review: Amreeka

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Rating: 3/5
Verdict: Entertaining if heavy-handed

Nisreen Faour puts in a vivacious performance as a hard-pressed Palestinian solo mum. Photo / Supplied
Nisreen Faour puts in a vivacious performance as a hard-pressed Palestinian solo mum. Photo / Supplied

Good-hearted but occasionally clunky, this story of Arab immigrant experience in a post-9/11 world traverses rather belatedly the same territory as mainstream films like The Visitor - not to mention a host of small and pungent documentaries that have explored the issue in some depth.

But it's not without charm, thanks in large part to the vivacious central performance of Nisreen Faour as Muna, a hard-pressed Palestinian solo mother of 16-year-old Fadi (Melkar Muallem).

The film's opening scenes chart with precise conviction and assurance the daily indignities of life in the occupied West Bank - Muna's daily drive to work, lengthened by the Separation Wall, takes her through two Israeli checkpoints. And we are introduced to her private grief as well: her husband left her for a younger, sleeker woman, regular glimpses of whom add to Muna's humiliation.

When she wins a US Green Card in a lottery, her luck looks like changing. But going to join her sister Raghda (the veteran Hiam Abbas, the mother in The Visitor) in Illinois creates its own problems, not least because of the timing: it's 2003, just after the US-led invasion of Iraq, and Arabs are not exactly flavour of the month in Middle America.

The film is plainly inspired by the experience of writer-director Dabis, the daughter of a Palestinian who spent her teenage years in the Midwest.

Certainly the scenes involving the youngsters - as Raghda's kids give Fadi an urgent makeover, starting with his pleated trousers - have a ring of authenticity.

But once in America (the title is a rendering of the Arabic name for the US), the storyline becomes slightly plodding and formulaic, closer to soap opera or sitcom than nuanced drama. The characters' actions seem always in the service of the points the film is trying to make and the plausibility suffers as a result.

Most glaringly, Joseph Ziegler as a schoolteacher who takes a kindly interest in the family, is intended to represent a tolerant America, but he never takes shape as a character.

He's just there to set up an upbeat ending that is at best forced and at worst a failure of nerve.

Cast: Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem, Hiam Abbas, Joseph Ziegler
Director: Chenien Dabis
Running time: 96 mins
Rating: M (offensive language, drug use) In English and Arabic with English subtitles

- NZ Herald

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