Concept of filmmaking.
Concept of filmmaking.

While there have been a number of popular and critically acclaimed Israeli produced films and series on Netflix in recent years, there’s been little attention paid to the experience of Palestinians in the world’s most volatile and hotly contested region.

This week, Netflix has quietly added a wide range of award-winning content made by Palestinian filmmakers that goes some way to redressing this representational imbalance and offers viewers the chance to experience life on the other side of the divide. Here are a selection of some of the highlights of the streaming platform’s “Palestinian Stories,” collection.

The arthouse essential: Chronicle of a Disappearance — Netflix

Acclaimed director Elia Suleiman’s first feature from 1996 is a layered mix of documentary, personal narrative and filmed essay, which quietly but provocatively offers a visual and atmospheric evocation of the overwhelming and sometimes overbearing sense of displacement that is the existential reality of many Palestinians.

Suleiman plays himself, a filmmaker who has spent 12 years in exile in New York and makes a return to his homeland looking for signs of familiarity in a world that now feels alien and strange and increasingly causes him to feel out of place and unsure of what to do or what to say in the face of the lived reality of those he left behind. Life here goes on in spite of the difficulties that are imposed on it by the politics of the region and always depressingly uncertain of what the future might be.

It’s politics are never nailed to mast but by repetition and emphasis of the rhythms of everyday life under the occupation, Suleiman makes a compelling argument for the idea that even in the most politically charged circumstances, real people must continue to go about the business of their lives in spite of the thunderous tumult that surrounds them. That reality may have become less easy to subscribe to since the period in which the film was made but what remains constant is that within the complexities and brutality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there continues to be no real promise of stability or security for either side. 

Watch the trailer here:

The stone-cold classic: A World Not Ours — Netflix

Director Mahdi Fleifel’s documentary is a complex meditation on ideas of home and belonging told through the eyes of the director and three generations of his family who have all lived their lives in exile in Ain al-Helweh, a refugee camp in Southern Lebanon, home to 70,000 Palestinians displaced from their homeland since the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Fleifel is an exile and the journey he makes back to the no-man’s-land of his upbringing is simultaneously tinged with a nostalgia for the characters and rituals he remembers from his childhood and a bittersweet acknowledgment of the absurdity of its current circumstances. It’s affecting and often gently humorous in its depiction of a people striving to maintain a sense of identity in a country where they never truly feel they belong, but in which historical circumstances have trapped them and forced them to make the best of.

Fleifel’s conversational voiceover and his use of a light jazz-themed soundtrack remind us that in spite of the depressing realities of the history that has led to the creation of this place, it’s not all doom and gloom as they create a sense of community and culture that helps to sustain them through whatever arrows of outrageous fortune fate may sling at them.

The film won a slew of awards including the 2013 Berlin Film Festival Peace Prize, and Fleifel has since made several short films that return to the area and examine the ongoing reality of its residents — a selection of which are also included on Netflix as part of its Palestinian Stories series.  

Watch the trailer here:

The diamond in the rough: Ave Maria — Netflix

Basil Khalil’s 2015 Oscar-nominated short film is a short, sharp and black-humoured comedy about five nuns who have their vow of silence rudely interrupted when an Israeli settler family crashes their car into a convent on Shabbat, the Jewish holy day of rest.

The nuns must stick to their vow of silence, the settlers must obey the rules of Shabbat and somehow everybody must just try to get along under these tense conditions as best they can.

It’s refreshingly obtuse with regard to the political realities but it does offer some universally relatable ponderings on the ways in which religious prescripts across faiths should be questioned.

It’s ultimately a heartwarming story of the ability of very different people to work together in charming, unexpected and gently funny ways.

Watch the trailer here:

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