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Thursday, 19 November 2009 18:00
Local opening date: November 20, 2009
Reviewed by Diane Carson
Amreeka, the Arab word for America, is a small, lovely film that follows characters who look, talk and act like real people in recognizable situations. The plot first intercepts its central, Palestinian mother Muna, as she awkwardly encounters her ex-husband and his new wife in a West Bank market. Further irritated by her and 16-year-old son Fadi's harassment as they return from Ramallah to their home in Bethlehem where the mail includes her green card, Muna decides to join her sister's family living near Chicago. Muna and Fadi's bumpy integration into American society contains humor without ever undercutting the difficulties.

In an unfortunate and revealing immigration encounter, Muna must answer a question about her country of origin, "We have none." "Occupation?" "Yes, we are." Such exchanges say a great deal without any grandstanding or preaching. Further, in our distressed economy, it's easy to empathize with Muna's struggle to find gainful employment, especially at the bank manager's level she held in Ramallah and now seeks. Undaunted, upbeat but decidedly embarrassed lest her family find out, she takes a job at a White Castle pretending to work at the bank next door where her sister drops her off. Amusing encounters follow. Meantime less happily Fadi begins high school as a junior, in class with his cousin.

It would have been so easy to demonize and exaggerate these non-Muslim, Palestinian-Americans' post-9/11 problems, not that they don't encounter their fair share. Muna's physician brother-in-law finds his patients leaving without explanation. He and we know why. But writer/director Cherien Dabis finds the humanity in all of this, including a Jewish teacher's responsiveness and understanding. Amreeka also soars with the warmth of Nisreen Faour's appealing performance. Technically, the music and sound fits with every scene in which it occurs and the art direction keeps it real.

For its touching depiction of, and affection for, lives carefully observed and humanely presented, Amreeka won the Critics Prize at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. In English with some Arabic with English subtitles. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Cinema.

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