Remainders of a revolution

The Time That Remains
Release: 28th May
Director: Elia Suleiman
Starring: Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri, Samar Tanus

Verdict: Quietly thought-provoking. Sometimes a little too quiet.

There are some films that you fall in love with straight away, some that take time to grow, and some you fall out of love with as you get further in. Somewhat bizarrely, The Time That Remains could be described as falling into all three categories. This has something to do with the level of personality that director Elia Suleiman pours into the semi-autobiographical film, and the level of personal engagement that he expects in return.

To describe the plot is difficult because nominally this is a film about the creation of the State of Israel and the subsequent 60 years. But this is used less as a plot point and becomes instead as much a part of the backdrop as the beautiful Israeli landscape. So if it’s not a grand moralising narrative on the creation of Israel what is The Time That Remains? At its heart we find a kitchen-sink drama; the relationship of one family in episodic form. The reasons for the style of narrative are most likely the sources from which Suleiman took his script; adapted by himself it comprises his father’s diary, his mother’s correspondences and his own memories.

The story comes in four parts with the first showing Suleiman’s (played by himself) return to Israel after exile. The second shows his father (Saleh Bakri) as a young man resisting the Israeli Army; in the third, his mother’s (Samar Tanus) letters reveal how everyone is trying to adapt to life under the new authorities, and the final part returns to the present day where Suleiman looks at what remains of the world he left behind.
The direction of the film is beautiful; every shot has a symmetry and richness that could have been lifted from a National Geographic editorial. There is also a consistent and often all consuming silence, culminating in the extremely sparse use of dialogue in the final section. Suleiman is a director known for embracing background noise (or the lack thereof) in a script and while at first this provides an opportunity to absorb the rich landscape of the film it must be admitted that by the end it had become frustrating.

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Saleh Bakri shines in a performance contrasting a young revolutionary and an old beaten man. And Suleiman’s own performance is measured and thoughtful if a little hard to get your head around. Overall The Time That Remains is a film that will make audiences think about a situation without having an ideology shoved down their throats. What Suleiman presents is the heart of his heritage and you are left with a true appreciation of another human’s condition.