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BERLIN 2019 Panorama

Review: Western Arabs


- BERLIN 2019: Omar Shargawi offers an emotional, brave and intimate documentary about his complex relationship with his father, Munir

Review: Western Arabs

Copenhagen-born director Omar Shargawi (Al Medina, 1/2 Revolution) has presented his new documentary Western Arabs [+see also:
film profile
in the Panorama section of the Berlinale. He has a complicated and painful relationship with his father, Munir, a fiery and aggressive Palestinian man who has acquired Danish citizenship and is married to a Danish national. Devastated by the war in his homeland and by his family's forced escape from their native country, Munir still hasn’t fully integrated himself into Danish society, despite the many years gone by, and has now passed on his traumas to his sons. Omar, father of Dorthea, is afraid of becoming violent and stubborn like his father and tries to avoid replicating his dad's pattern of behaviour.

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After a brief scene shot inside the director's car, where Omar speaks of the violent argument he had with one of his brothers, a visually powerful sequence - composed of archive footage and beautifully toned images - unequivocally introduces the main themes of the film, namely Omar's cultural displacement and his thorny relationship with the father. Omar is willing to delve into his father's past to reconcile with him, however, as the viewers will soon see, Munir’s is a troubled personality, at times jolly and spirited, at times hostile and reticent. Shargawi's relationship with his father is enigmatic and unstable and the photography running throughout the documentary (courtesy of Aske Foss and the director himself) reflects the frailty of their bond. It is rich with intimate moments, enhanced through shaky close-up shots of Munir and Omar's confessions which are delivered directly to the camera.

These precious visual elements are enriched not only by the splendid soundtrack of Anders 'AC' Christensen, but also by way of some intense phone call recordings and various philosophical speculations on themes such as religion, war and hatred.

Interestingly, the director has chosen to intertwine documentary material with scenes from his previous action films and thrillers. Shargawi tends to involve his father in the making of his features and his film scripts often feature dialogue that is repressed at home. Gradually, the film evolves into a wider reflection on non-communication between family members and focuses on the inner conflicts of Omar and Munir, who are both struggling to overcome their past and to find peace. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is omnipresent in the characters' dialogues, in Omar's journey to his homeland and in segments of archive footage shown in the film, becomes a metaphor for the uncertain state of mind shared by the two men, and it even provides an opportunity to reflect on the role of film in the developing of social consciousness. The final scene is the real high moment of the film, rewarding the viewers’ attention with a universal message which is full of hope and happily short on rhetoric.

Shot over a period of twelve years, the production process for this documentary was turbulent. The film was finally edited by the talented Thomas Papapetros within the space of five months, but over the course of a year. The hard work of the director can plainly be seen on screen and the final result is a brave, touching film which viewers will be hard pushed not to relate to.

Western Arabs is produced by Eva Jakobsen, Katrin Pors and Mikkel Jersin for Copenhagen-based company Snowglobe in co-operation with Frank Hoeve and Katja Draaijer for the Amsterdam-based Baldr Film. Additional financial support was granted by the Danish Film Institute, the Netherlands Film Fund and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. Berlin-based distribution firm Rise and Shine is currently handling world sales.

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