Stealing cars is a risky enough business. Now try doing it in and around the Palestinian territories. From this simple and irreverent starting point, debut director Muayad Alayan (co-writing with Rami Alayan) channels Jean-Luc Godard into a fast-paced and delightfully comic story that manages to address life in one of the most fraught regions of the world without sinking into a pit of sombre despair.
The car thief in question, Mousa (Sami Metwasi) is a sorry figure. A harmless slacker, he’s permanently on the run from responsibilities and never willing to face consequences. Desperate to raise money to buy a visa out of the region, he chucks in honest work with his father on a construction site and sneaks out to steal cars from Israelis’ and sell the pieces back in Palestine. Except the car he’s just stolen happens to belong to some very serious players in the Palestinian underground, and comes with an Israeli soldier locked in the boot.
Shot in luminous black and white and brilliantly edited, Alayan’s film pops, sizzles and charges forward. Scenes are short and sharp, only held longer when necessary. Sudden cuts occur frequently, often to generate humour. Mousa’s first discovery of the soldier (Riyad Sliman) in his car is a thing of silent ear beauty. His hasty plans, clearly made on the hoof are both funny and utterly believable. He’s an ordinary man trying to thread a path through perilous waters, much like his captive soldier who has about as much interest in involvement with the powers that be as Mousa does.
But the theft, as the title suggests, is not all of it. Mousa wants the money to flee his lover (Maya Abu Alhayyat), a woman married to a dangerous man. To make matters worse, she only married him because Mousa got her pregnant and then did a runner. Now he’s planning on doing the same all over again.
The segue between his automotive travails and complicated love life is not always a smooth one. Alayan jumps about a little too much in frenetic efforts to bridge the gap. It almost plays as two separate stories. When he’s done being chased around the streets by Palestinian militia in a scene both amusing and intimidating, he’s soon thrust into a domestic disturbance that finally forces a choice between running and standing.
The choice is too binary when it comes, the conclusion a neat wrapper on a very messy situation. Even then, it’s pulled off with undeniable élan as Mousa, the consummate everyman, is forced to confront difficulties of his own making, and broader problems that the great and the good have failed miserably to solve for decades. This is innovative, visually arresting filmmaking that waltzes through subject matter many have been stymied by. Here’s to Alayan’s next dance.
Director: Muayad Alayan
Writers: Muayad Alayan, Rami Musa Alayan
Stars: Riyad Sliman, Nicola Zreineh, Sami Metwasi
Runtime: 90 min