Film Review: AJAMI

Written and Directed by Scandar Coptu and Yaron Shani
Starring; Sharir Kabaha, Ibrahim Frege, Fouad Habash, Eran Main, Scandar Copti, Yussef Sahwani, Ranin Karim
Released; February 2010
Running Time 2 hours

Ajami was one of the contenders this year for “Best Foreign Film” at the Oscars. It has the distinction of being directed by a Palestinian and an Israeli director. The name comes fron the Jaffa (south of Tel Aviv) neighborhood in which it takes place—a tough unforgiving terrain both visually and psychically for all its inhabitants. It’s not very different from the neighborhoods we’ve come to know in “Gomorrah”, “The Wire”, in “Amores Perros.” But in Ajami it is not just poverty or gang violence that strikes the match. We find people who’ve been at odds with each other for decades if not centuries. Everyone is looking for trouble although few of them cause it intentionally.

PLOT: It begins with an accident—a vendetta killing goes awry and things only grow more complex and worse from that moment on. Ajami’s structure is circular and things that happen early on become less murky later. Violence swirls around a series of more personal stories—brothers trying to keep each other alive, a Romeo and Juliet romance, a rough cop and his family, a mother who fears for her sons, a drug-dealer, a teenager. The hopelessness of things ever being resolved resonates in every scene. Yet at heart, this movie’s about the violence we do to each other when we see each other as the enemy. When we privilege our family or our tribe over the greater good.

The sequence of events in Ajami is sometimes difficult to follow, but that’s not the point—or maybe it’s the exact point. Who’s to blame, who’s trying to do the right thing never is completely clear. In the movie, in the Middle East, in any place perhaps.

A great film if you don’t demand a happy ending—or an ending at all.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.