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In the Chicago Palestine Film Festival, there's no place like home

Gene Siskel Film Center presents stories of occupation and exile.

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Considering how long Palestinians have lived under military occupation or as refugees, I'm not surprised that statelessness, violence, and oppression underlie all the works I saw from this year's Chicago Palestine Film Festival. In a somber moment from the generally upbeat documentary On the Bride's Side (Friday, April 22, 8 PM, and Sunday, April 24, 5 PM), one subject, having learned that he's eligible for citizenship in Italy, says, "It's the first time I've ever had a citizenship." The film was conceived when two of the three codirectors (Antonio Augugliaro, Gabriele del Grande, and Khaled Soliman al Nassiry) agreed to help a refugee get from Italy to Sweden and disguised their car trip as a wedding party to elude detection. They stop along the way to leave graffiti memorializing friends who've been killed, and in several fine scenes a boy raps in Arabic about his hopes for a Palestinian state.

In the drama 3000 Nights (Saturday, April 30, and Thursday, May 5, 8 PM) a woman gives a lift to a wounded boy, not knowing that Israeli authorities suspect him of having killed a soldier, and she's sentenced to eight years in prison. Director Mai Masri heightens the story's emotion by connecting many extreme close-ups that revolve around the protagonist (her face as she speaks, her hands and feet shackled to her bed while she's pregnant) and centering her inside long shots to convey her isolation. On the same program, Amr Kawji's short Detaining Dreams intertwines the stories of four young teens arrested separately and beaten brutally by the Israelis. In a telling detail, one describes how the police inspected the teeth of a dog that bit him before they bothered to examine him.

Even Amber Fares's energetic car-racing movie Speed Sisters (Saturday April 23, 8 PM, and Thursday, April 28, 8:15 PM) is inflected by the characters' troubled political status: the five young people of the title live for racing but lack adequate spaces to train, and one of them gets shot on a training track. The dialogue can be moving (what matters most to one racer is making the people of the Jenin refugee camp proud), but the scenes of slalom racing are interminably similar.

The most affecting work I saw was Anna Fahr's short Transit Game, screening with On the Bride's Side. Here the issues of displacement come up almost casually, like accepted postulates of existence. Two children who sell newspapers at a desolate crossroads help a stranded Syrian refugee who's looking for a new home in Lebanon. One child's parents have disappeared, the other's are dead, and the landscape's vastness is rendered almost poetically; sadly, the wandering of exiles can be found in most of the other films too.  v

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