The Night | Movie Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Night



The Night

Described by some as a rare account of the creation of the state of Israel "from the Arab perspective," this 1992 Syrian film is more a view of 1940s Syrian culture, with historical events forming a vital backdrop. Director Mohamad Malas centers on a family in the Golan Heights town of Kuneitra, which will ultimately be near the Israeli border. Many events have a larger-than-life quality. The family's young son witnesses a man trying to immolate himself with gasoline after returning defeated from the first Arab-Israeli war; the wide-eyed boy is relieved to find his own father, also a fighter, safely asleep. But political events are only one of the things that affect the characters; there are also personal quarrels and the complexities of the town's culture. What gives the film its originality and power is Malas's use of complex images to express the interdependent relationships between characters and between characters and history. Different events are combined in the foreground and background of a single composition; a long take will shift focus from one event to another. Malas conceives of characters not as lone individuals but as products of complex cultural contexts--I thought of 1930s Jean Renoir films--and comes to no simple conclusions. It's as if each character were part of multiple networks, and the town a rich tapestry of conflicting emotions, impossible dreams, and great failures and successes. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, July 26, 6:00, 312-443-3737.

--Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.

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