A shift in perspective

‘Sharqiya’ takes you inside the life of a Beduin.

A shift in perspective (photo credit: Courtesy)
A shift in perspective
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Beduin are a community that is perpetually intriguing, even exotic, to many Israelis.
They are part of Israel – many of them serve in the IDF – yet many of us still associate them with the trappings of a nomadic existence: robes, tents, raising camels and riding horses. Part of the brilliance of Ami Livne’s Sharqiya is that he allows us to see a Beduin as a real person, not a romantic desert tribesman. And Livne does it by creating a compelling, fully rounded character who struggles and faces oppression but is far from a helpless victim.
In a year with many stunning performances by gifted nonprofessionals (including Hitham Omari in Yuval Adler’s Bethlehem and Barkhad Abdi as a Somali pirate in Captain Phillips), Ednan Abu Wadi does especially strong work as Kamel, a veteran of the IDF who works in security at the Beersheba bus station. Obsessed with gadgets and technology, he tinkers with and fixes all kinds of electronics and appliances he finds in and around the station. He lives on a small patch of desert land his family has laid claim to since the Ottoman Empire and is responsible for rigging the generator that provides electricity.
His brother, Khaled (Ednan Abu Muhrab), and sister-in-law live there, too. Khaled did not serve in the army and works as a construction worker, openly contemptuous of Kamel for his choice to work within the Israeli system. But Nadia (Misa Abd el-Hadi), his sister-in-law, longs to study at a university, both out of a desire to be educated and to help give her family an easier, less isolated life, and Kamel encourages her gently.
It won’t come as a huge surprise to moviegoers that one day the family receives an eviction/ demolition order from the government. It’s also not a shock that when Kamel goes to a government office to appeal, a clueless and uninterested bureaucrat offers paltry financial compensation and cheerily tells him that with that, they can move to a Beduin town. It’s easy to understand that Kamel and his family would prefer the independence they have worked so hard to maintain in the heart of nature to life in a governmentapproved slum. After fighting through the approved channels as best as he can, Kamel comes up with a plan of his own.
Livne’s direction is quiet and low key, with a rhythm similar to the semi-documentary style of Belgium’s Dardenne brothers. The stripped-down approach gracefully complements Kamel’s matter-of-fact attitude to his very pressured, often difficult, life. He doesn’t fit in on the security team at the bus station (where he is discriminated against, in spite of his exemplary work), and at home, he and his brother live in such close quarters but disagree about so many fundamental issues. Even more disquieting is the fact that he and Nadia are clearly much better suited than she is to her husband, and all three of them sense this.
And finally, there’s the fact that the place Kamel calls home is constantly in jeopardy.
There is very little he can count on in life, but instead of turning this into a preachy, movie-of-theweek type depiction of a noble Beduin facing evil Israelis, Livne creates a nuanced story that draws you into the life of this complex man.
Ednan Abu Wadi gives an amazing performance, with a quiet star quality: Picture a Beduin Gary Cooper. I remember seeing Abu Wadi at the party following this film’s premiere at the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2012 and watching as he was swarmed by fans. His quiet but determined presence is the key element that makes Sharqiya so compelling.
Sharqiya is such a low-key film, it may not have gotten the attention it truly deserves. Livne has achieved an almost impossible feat – making us look again at someone we thought we knew already, and has done it in the context of a moving story.
SHARQIYADirected by Ami LivneWritten by Guy OfranWith Ednan Abu Wadi, EdnanAbu Muhrab, Misa Abd el-HadiHebrew title: SharqiyaRunning time: 85 minutes.In Hebrew and Arabic. Checkwith theaters for subtitleinformation.