Life in an occupied territory is never easy, but who knew it could be so beautifully absurd? Drawing from everyday tales of contemporary Palestine, director Rashid Masharawi, whose Ticket to Jerusalem screened at the Festival in 2002, concentrates his focus on a single day, crafting a wry comedy about a father, his daughter and the chaos 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. —TIFF
Rashid Masharawi, (also: “Rashid Mashrawi”) film artist, born in Gaza in 1962 to a family of refugees from Jaffa. He grew up in the Shati refugee camp.
Rashid Masharawi lives and works in Ramallah, where he founded the Cinema Production and Distribution Center in 1996 with the aim of promoting local film productions. He also sponsors a mobile cinema, which allows him to screen films in Palestinian refugee camps. Other projects include the annual Kids Film Festival and major workshops on film production and directing. Rashid Masharawi regularly organises readings and discussion forums at the Al-Matal cultural centre. With his documentaries and feature films, he has also made a name for himself as a film artist. He has received several film awards. —Wikipedia