Amir Srour as Nizar in Yellow Mums

This week I watched two short films from Palestine as part of a link-up between The London Palestinian Film Festival and MAP (Medical Aid for Palestinians). The deal is that you make a donation to MAP on a Friday and receive a virtual ticket to watch a film streamed to your device. This last week it has been two shorts but from today the film streaming is a feature-length documentary. Follow this link to make a donation. (There will be a small fee on top of your donation.) MAP is supporting the fight against coronavirus in the West Bank and Gaza and in Lebanon.

The two films I watched had a theme associated with Easter Week with both dealing with Christian Palestinian communities. In the first, Yellow Mums (2010, 32 mins) by Firas Khoury, the focus is on a traditional Easter game for children associated with painted eggs. I remember such games from my childhood as Lancashire has one of the strongest traditions of what is an international culture associating decorated eggs with Easter. We called it ‘pace-egging’ which I understand derives from Old English for Passover. The Palestinian version for children seems to involve hard-boiled and painted eggs which are then used in a contest similar to ‘conkers’ in the UK. One child holds an egg in their fist with one end showing. The challenger then strikes the egg with their own. Whichever egg survives the bout without breaking the shell is the winner and if the strike is successful on the other end of the egg, the winner takes the loser’s egg. The central character of the story, Nizar, is an introverted altar boy in his village church. He is bullied by the other boys because he wears socks with his sandals.

Observing another boy who ‘blows’ an egg and fills it with wax to create a stronger weapon, Nizar hatches a plan to win the contest and in doing so, to please Jesus – he listens to the priest bless the contest but ask that all the eggs be given to Jesus. There is a sub-plot in which Nizar makes friends with a woman who keeps chickens and is also a target for abuse by the village boys. Nizar and the ‘egg-woman’ are not heroic characters and the group of village lads are not ‘bad lads’ as such. This is a humanist tale detailing events in a village over the Easter weekend. It’s a long ‘short’ so there is sufficient time to sketch in enough background for Nizar and the life of the village. I suppose it is a coming-of-age narrative of sorts and explores Nizar’s sense of identity in terms of the church and as a boy in the village community. The only evidence of the occupation is that the children have to stop what they are doing and cover their ears as jets roar over the village. I’ve struggled to find much about the background to the film or where it was shot (it’s quite a verdant landscape). It appears that it was officially made with Israeli funding and featured at the Jerusalem Independent Film Festival. It is the only directorial credit for Firas Khoury who dedicates the film to his mother. He has had other roles in various Israeli Arab productions.

Ave Maria (2015, 15 mins) has a much higher profile as a short film nominated for an Oscar and with many nominations and wins around the world. The director Basil Khalil was born in Nazareth but trained in Scotland – his mother is ‘British-Irish’. Khalil worked in London TV productions in the 2000s, but has had only a couple of credits in the last decade. He is now listed as directing a UK production shooting in Gaza. Ave Maria is a very funny short comedy listed as a Palestine-France-Germany production.

The desolate spot
The novice and the settler

The setting is a desolate spot, mined by the Israelis and with barbed wire fences along the road. A lone building on a rise is framed against the horizon which reveals a city in the distance. It’s 5.35pm on a Friday afternoon in the West Bank. The lone building is a convent in which a small group of nuns belonging to a silent order are eating together when they are disturbed by a loud bang. A car carrying a trio of Orthodox Jews heading for an (illegal) settlement has crashed outside the convent badly damaging a statue of Our Lady and wrecking the car. The travellers appear trapped in a situation in which they are powerless because with Shabbat beginning they shouldn’t be using technology to get themselves out of this mess. They must convince the silent nuns to help them. What follows is a sharply written comedy about religious beliefs clashing in the context of the occupation. The film was shot in 2.35:1 by the Israeli cinematographer Eric Mizrahi. I enjoyed the film very much. It’s clear enough where its sympathy lies, but the settlers are humanised enough to make the comedy of beliefs work well. The hero of the hour turns out to be the young novice of the convent who has talents you might not expect. I thoroughly recommend this short which is available on iTunes in the UK. This augurs well for Khalil’s Gaza-set comedy. I’m pleased I could support health-workers in Palestine and I thought this was a good double bill. You can still catch this week’s film.