Catalysts: Our Review of ‘Alam’ on Film Movement

Posted in What's Streaming? by - April 24, 2024
Catalysts: Our Review of ‘Alam’ on Film Movement

Palestinians, especially according to European colonists in the Apartheid State, are a collective with a political mind. This runs in contrast with films that actually give Palestinians a voice like Firas Khoury’s Alam. The film’s elevator pitch is that its protagonist, Tamer (Mahmood Bakri), starts out as an apolitical person. The teen then wakes up to politics because of a new female student in town, Maysaa’ (Sereen Khass). The film, as films go, is more complex than that, as it shows Tamer’s multiple influences.

In one of the scenes, a neighbour tells Tamer not to listen to his dad, Alam‘s actual apolitical character, so maybe the assumption about the political mind that’s inherent in Palestinians is correct. The film shows Tamer living in his grandfather’s house that has actual frames of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. Viewers can interpret images like this and see that politics is a dormant lion waiting to rise. There’s levels of irony here too, that a European like Eisenstein inspires boys of colour like Tamer.

Tamer partially shelters himself from politics, again, because of his bourgeois dad, and he also hangs out with two other boys and their dialogue usually involves buying some weed. Alam eventually introduces Maysaa’ as Tamer’s political catalyst but another student awakening that side of him. That student is Safwat (Muhammad Abed Elrahman), who is never on time for school for reasons viewers can assume. The film eventually shows Safwat verbally fighting back against the curriculum that refers to Palestinians as ‘Arabs’.

Alam gets its name from an Arabic word that either means ‘flag’ or ‘world’. And the film associates itself with the former meaning, as Tamer, Maysaa’, Safwat, and tamer’s other friend hatch a plan. In remembrance of the Nakba, they want to replace the Israeli flag hanging in their school with a Palestinian one. Most of the film’s second act have Tamer and Maysaa’ ng out and not smooth out the plan’s details. There is, unfortunately, a filler feeling about such scenes. I wish there were more scenes showing Tamer’s family members, especially ones that explain Tamer’s uncle’s (Saleh Bakri) trauma.

Alam uses a symbolic protest to make it seem like it’s just a senior prank, and yes, the filler feeling manifests when their plan doesn’t go well the first time they do it. Nonetheless, the film still comes off as charming not despite its circuitousness but because of it. Maybe I’m just saying that because there’s a scene where they platonically share the same bed. But a lot more things happen after that that feel essential to the film’s depiction of a boy’s political awakening.

Watch Alam in select North American theatres and on Film Movement.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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