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VENICE 2021 Giornate degli Autori

Review: The Stranger


- VENICE 2021: Ameer Fakher Eldin's debut film sees a struggling former doctor face up to living in the Golan Heights, a place of occupation and patriarchy

Review: The Stranger
Ashraf Barhom in The Stranger

Unveiled as a world premiere in the Venice Film Festival's Giornate degli Autori sidebar, Ameer Fakher Eldin's debut film, The Stranger [+see also:
interview: Ameer Fakher Eldin
film profile
, shares not only a title with the famous Albert Camus work, but also its focus on a man immersed in an existential crisis when faced with the absurd. It begins with a woman's voice asking the back of a male head staring out of the window, "France? They have delicious bread… Germany?" It's a strange and mysterious opening that immediately suggests a yearning to be somewhere other than the occupied Golan Heights, Israel's contested border territory with Syria and Lebanon.

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The man in flux, looking out of the window, is Adnan (Ashraf Barhom), who doesn't want to leave the sloping, snow-capped mountains. A late and unseasonal fog is moving across the ruins of more than 100 Syrian villages destroyed during and after the Six-Day War in 1967. The mist is a metaphor for Adnan's state of mind. He is a man trapped by the weight of history, his own traumas and a crumbling patriarchal system. He doesn't want to be like his stubborn father, Abu Adnan (Mohammad Bakri), but as Layla (Amal Kais), his long-suffering wife and mother of their daughter, argues, he is just like him.

The feeling of animosity between father and son is mutual. The white-bearded Abu Adnan is writing a will, declaring that he will leave everything to the temple, including his house and apple orchard, disinheriting his only son, Adnan. Adnan barely talks to his father and wants to be different. Yet, everyone who knows him thinks that Adnan is a former doctor who is now just the town drunk, blaming all of his woes on his broken family and harbouring a sense that he knows best how to fix it. Adnan is in such a bad state that his brother-in-law visits him in his "shitty" orchard and wants him to divorce his sister, whom he knows loves her husband too much to leave him. Layla is a character used to suggest hope but is too peripheral for this message to really hit home.

If his domestic troubles were not already big enough to deal with, then comes the sting in the tale: the town is occupied by Israeli forces. The protagonists must pass checkpoints if they want to come and go. They cannot do what they like. “What's this checkpoint for?” is a question that even the person manning the blockade doesn’t want to answer, or maybe he can't; it's just the way it is. Adnan almost gets into an altercation with him, but the position of power is clear to see, and he is frustrated. Is this the source of his feelings of worthlessness? He screams that he wants to go to Damascus, a place he's been unable to go to for 50 years, and not even the war raging in Syria seems to deter this desire. It looks as if he's going to fall off the edge, until his life takes a dramatic turn and the movie switches tone when Adnan must help a mysterious soldier wounded in the Syrian war. Director Eldin uses this meeting to bring some of his themes into context and to give Adnan a physical body to help him face the fog in his mind.

The Stranger is a Syrian-German-Palestinian-Qatari production staged by Fresco Films and Red Balloon Film, which is also in charge of its international sales. It was co-produced by Metafora Production.

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