Palestinians struggle in the promised land.
By Roger Moore, The Orlando Sentinel
The immigrant experience gets a fresh, post-9/11 Palestinian spin in Amreeka, a film that has all the familiar ingredients but is such a well-acted, winning combination of those that we see them with fresh eyes.
Muna (Nisreen Faour) is a West Bank banker, a woman whose husband left her for a younger, thinner woman, but who is able to support herself and keep her teen son, Fadi (Melkar Muallem), in a private school. He is her hope, her reason for wanting to move to America.
We see her deal with the petty indignities of running into her ex, and the humiliations of living under Israeli occupation. Those humiliations don't end the day they make the move. Even after she has uprooted herself and her son, said goodbye to her mother and made the plane trip, she has to explain to a testy Customs officer that, no, she doesn't actually have a country. ``Palestine, West Bank'' is not a real state.
To make matters worse, they arrive just as the United States is invading Iraq. Even the support of her sister's family -- she married a Palestinian doctor and has lived outside Chicago for 15 years -- may not be enough as ``patriotic'' patients abandon his practice, and her Palestinian heritage isn't a job-hunt asset. Meanwhile, Fadi is dealing with bigoted bullies at school and his thoroughly Americanized teen cousin's taste for the wild life.
Faour gives a lovely, understated performance and makes Muna's lack of sophistication charming and understandable. Muallem is terrific as that universal Every Teen, chip on his shoulder, sense of entitlement, impulsive, the works.
Writer-director Cherien Dabis paints an ugly, isolated suburbia for these characters to try and fit into, topped with domestic disharmony (her sister wishes she had never left Palestine). Yet there's an uglier world that they all are fleeing. This charming film finds hope and lets us appreciate, again, just why the rest of the world still wants to come to Amreeka.
Cast: Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem, Joseph Ziegler.
Director/screenwriter: Cherien Dabis.
Producers: Paul Barkin, Christina Piovesan.
A First Generation Films release. Running time: 97 minutes. Brief drug use, some language. Playing at: In Miami-Dade: Aventura, South Beach; in Palm Beach: Shadowood.