Israeli film "Ajami" gets real, aims for Oscar

Wed Mar 3, 2010 7:01pm EST
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By Ari Rabinovitch

JAFFA, Israel (Reuters) - When the directors yelled "Action!" on the set of Israeli film "Ajami," none of the actors had prepared lines or knew exactly what was expected in their scenes.

Most of them had day jobs and never appeared in a movie before. None knew how the low-budget drama would end. And no one imagined it would earn a nomination for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards on March 7.

Co-directed by a Jew and a Christian Arab, "Ajami" was shot in a relatively brief 23 days in the mostly Arab district of the same name in Jaffa, which has a reputation for poverty and violence and is part of greater Tel Aviv.

The movie's raw, cinema-verite look at life provides an about-face from Israel's stylized 20O9 Oscar nominee, "Waltz With Bashir," which used experimental animation to explore the inner conflict of a veteran of the 1982 Lebanon invasion.

But the two share a common lineage to a re-energized Israeli movie industry being fueled by a new generation of storytellers.

"Ajami's" intertwined stories expose an Israeli underclass riven by drugs, crime and ethnic prejudice.

The movie follows a young Muslim who gets caught in an Arab clan feud and his own forbidden romance with a Christian woman; the story of a Jewish police officer in search of his missing soldier brother, and the tale of a Palestinian youth who sneaks into Israel for menial work.

"To a certain extent, you have to take into account the whole notion of politically correct, but at the same time we didn't want to beautify reality," said Yaron Shani, who worked on the movie for seven years with co-director Scandar Copti.   Continued...

<p>Actress Anne Hathaway and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak announce the nominations in the Best Foreigh Language Film category during the 82nd annual Academy Awards nominee announcements in Beverly Hills February 2, 2010. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok</p>