Before watching, “West Bank Brooklyn” I had a sinking feeling that I was going to get stuck in another one of those pity our religion, culture, or race type movies. The ones that think their characters have been denied so much for so long that they sit on their cinematic soapboxes explaining why the world owes them something for nothing.
I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. “West Bank Brooklyn” is nothing less than a wonderfully crafted film about not only coping with one’s identity, but the effects it has on the rest of world around you.
The film follows four Palestinian-American Brooklyn boys, each trying to make a mark in their daily lives while at the same time trying to keep their deeply rooted identities. Ali proudly saves for grad school, but has to do it by taking care of a terminally ill Jewish man. His father, who is still deeply rooted in the ways of his homeland, forces his brother Mustafa into arranged marriage. Their friend Muhammad takes a turn to anti-Semitism after finding out a relative back home has been killed by Israeli troops. Finally there’s Saddam, if the name itself isn’t painful enough, decides to pass for a Puerto Rican to make life in Brooklyn a little more tolerable.
That seems like a lot of plot to chew, but “West Bank Brooklyn” works not only because of some tight editing, but also crisp dialogue. The characters conduct their lives in casual conversations rather than sitting on their mental soap boxes preaching to the audience. It never wants us to have pity on its characters, nor does it make them out like over the top caricatures. They know where they stand in the big scheme of life and are just looking to take a piece of the pie like every other American. Even the city they live in becomes a microcosmic mixture of race and cultures, each with equal problems but never the same solution. Part of this is due to some clever direction from director Ghazi Albuliwi. His characters are always three-dimensional and never self-loathing in their quest to live the American dream.
Some of the subject matter of race/religion seems a little too pushed, but as a whole it’s a thoughtful piece of work without shoving the subject matter down our throats. “West Bank Brooklyn” finally comes down to the basic storytelling that anyone can relate to: coping with not only your family’s lifestyle and heritage, but making one for your own in the big picture of life as well.
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