Laila’s Birthday – Eid milad Laila (2008)
Directed by: Rashid Masharawi | 72 minutes | drama, comedy | Actors: Mohammed Bakri, Areen Omari, Nour Zoubi, Ahmad Ismael, Walid Abed Elssalam, Khaled Al Masou, Maxim Mansour, Rawan Ao’de, Ali Taleb Slimane, Mahmoud El Cheikh, Ibrahim Rajob, Valantina Abu Aq’ssah, Ismael Habbash, Mourad Qura’an, Saleh Bakri, Karma Zoubi, Khaled Horani, Marwan Awadd, Mahmoud Awadd, Badran Bedarin, Ihab Abed Elssalam, Hossine Nakhla, Ahmad Abu Sal’Oum, Najah Abu El Heija, Fadi El Ghoul, Shadi Joda, Nadia Kan ‘an, Yahya Barakat, A’sem Zoubi, Housam Abu A’ishe
Abu Laila is a man who, because of his legal background, is obsessed with the view that the law is there for a reason, that people have to conform to it, otherwise only chaos remains. He doesn’t make it easy for himself. The conditions for enforcing the law are scarce. Corruption, poverty, cynicism and the absurdity of everyday life mean that people are hardly bothered by formal legal regulations.
With the film, director Rashid Masharawi tries to describe the confusion that dominates the lives of the Palestinians. After more than half a century of occupation by Israel, resistance to freedom, negotiations for peace and hope for progress, the situation of living conditions has in fact only deteriorated. The resulting frustration, the decay of ethical values and the inability to cope with them in daily life is subtly and beautifully woven into the story. In a kind of road movie with slightly absurdist touches, we follow him on his rides through the area sealed off by the Israelis. He used to be a judge in a neighboring country and came back by invitation. Since then, the balance of power has shifted, one time Fatah has power and the next Hamas. Such changes in power have major consequences on a personal level. Who are being given jobs and functions now? Abu Laila experiences this firsthand, which is presented in the story jokingly but also poignantly.
He constantly gets passengers in his taxi that strongly contrast with his own views. At the same time, despite his formal legal views, he remains a warm, flesh-and-blood person, which gives the film a very sympathetic character. The story only shows us the events of one day, but the whole range of life comes out convincingly. How can he manage to survive in the chaos that reigns everywhere? By including the birthday of his daughter in the story and the assignment Abu Laila has given himself to give her a suitable present at the end of the day, the human dimension remains intact and a harmonious balance is present between the political message of the story and the problems of the inhabitants of these areas. Especially the acting performance of Mohammed Bakri as Abu Laila is convincing. The alternating subtle and black humor keeps the story palatable, making the film interesting for a wide audience, but will probably find its way mainly in the arthouse circuit.
The camera work is excellent, beautiful landscapes are shown during the rides, but the checkpoints and the daily struggle for naked existence are equally penetrating. The story of the film is relatively small in itself, but it has a big message about an immense problem: the main character, however, knows how to keep fully human scale and is very convincing as a character. ‘Small, but nice’ is the verdict of this convincing and realistic film that combines a political message with a human story.