Thursday, December 11, 2008

'Laila's Birthday' directed by Rashid Masharawi is the opening film in the 13th IFFK

Palestinian director Rashid Masharawi's 'Laila's Birthday' will be the opening film in the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), which is scheduled to begin from December 12. Rashid Masharawi was born and raised in the Shati refugee camp, Gaza Strip, and is a self-taught filmmaker. In 1996 he founded the Cinema Production and Distribution Center (CPC), which offers workshops to young Palestinian filmmakers. The CPC also initiated the Mobile Cinema Project, which brings screenings to refugee camps. His credits as director include Curfew(93), Haifa (96), Ticket to Jerusalem (02), En directe de Palestine (02), Arafat, mon frère (05), Attente (05) and Laila's Birthday(08).
Life in an occupied territory is never easy. Director Rashid Masharawi, concentrates his focus on a single day, crafting a cynical comedy about a father, his daughter and the disorder all around them. It is the morning of his daughter's birthday. Abu Laila has promised to bring home a birthday cake to celebrate, but first he has to make it through the day. He sets out with his briefcase and steps into a taxi – which he drives. This is just the first of many incongruities. Abu Laila must explain time after time during his day, “I'm a judge, but actually I'm a taxi driver.” An esteemed member of the judiciary, he was invited to practise in Palestine, but bureaucracy has kept him from gaining his papers. So he supports his family by driving a taxi.It's not the humiliation that drives him crazy, it's the chaos. Abu Laila is a functionary. He is adamant that passengers fasten their seat belts. He insists on no smoking. He refuses passengers who jump into his cab with AK-47s slung over their shoulders. With his thin moustache and watery eyes, Mohamed Bakri has a dour, proper face built for comedy. He looks like Buster Keaton and moves through the dusty, ramshackle setting with the fastidiousness of Chaplin's Little Tramp. In fact, silent comedy may be one of the strongest influences in Laila's Birthday, even if it is a mobile phone that sets off one of the film's best chain of gags. Masharawi embeds the politics of his context under the surface. True, Abu Laila must endure armed clients, bomb scares and raging arguments about occupation, but mainly he just wants everyone to behave. When at last he makes it home and is asked how his day was, the payoff is just perfect.

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