SIFF Review: Laila's Birthday

The sound of glass shattering in the early morning hours is the first hint that all is not well outside the tranquil domestic incubator Abu Laila (Mohammed Bakri) has erected for his wife and young daughter. And soon, after Abu drops his beloved Laila off at school in his taxi and promises to return home on time to celebrate her birthday, filmmaker Rashid Masharawi shows us why: Palestine awaits. A former judge turned taxi driver, Abu finds himself ensnared in the quotidian struggle of life under Israeli occupation, a situation exacerbated by local corruption, bureaucratic ineptitude, and the ever-present prospect of violent death. It's a land where people frequently ask, "What's your problem?", as if everyone didn't already know. In her review of the film, my colleague Ella Taylor rightly compared the comic absurdity of Mashwari's vision to Tati and Chaplin. (For another taste of the often gut-busting ridiculousness of a land sliced and diced by checkpoints and arbitrary authority, see 2004's The Syrian Bride.) But I would add one more name: Buster Keaton, whose face Harmony Korine once said convinced him of cinema's poetic powers. With its delta of wrinkles and onyx eyes locked behind bottle-thick glasses, Bakri's face has a similar effect--and it, like the film, is nothing short of hypnotic. (NR, 72 minutes)

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