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Screwdriver (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

Screwdriver (Mafak)


Starring Ziad Bakri, Areen Omari, Jameel Khoury, Yasmine QaddumiMariam Basha, Amir Khoury, Wassim Mousa, Mohammad Adawi, Huthayfa Jalamna, Adham Abu Aqel, Munther Bannourah, Abedalrahman Zubaidi, Ibrahim Jawhari, Israa Darawsha, Nidal Taha, Bassam Jarbawi, Imad Mizro, Amira Habash, Faleh Faleh, Maya Omaia Keesh, Ahmad Jubeh, Sanad Amina and Doraid Liddawi.

Screenplay by Bassam Jarbawi.

Directed by Bassam Jarbawi.

Distributed by Dialectic. 107 minutes. Not Rated.

Screened for the 2019 Other Israel Festival.

The divide between the Jews and Palestinians in Israel has been massive for decades now, with no solution in sight, sadly. This film is the closing night feature at the Other Israel Film Festival in New York, whose mission is trying to bridge that divide, to show the life of Palestinian Israelis without bias or prejudice.

For the most part Screwdriver succeeds. It is a smart and disturbing look at Ziad (Ziad Bakri), a Palestinian man who as a teen is involved in a shooting and fifteen years later is released from prison a fundamentally different man. He is racked with guilt, finds it hard to socialize with friends and family, and obviously suffering from PTSD. He doesn’t sleep nights, can’t hold a job, feels uncomfortable with dating and is even pushing his family away.

He is approached by a beautiful young filmmaker (Yasmine Qaddumi) who wants to tell his story, but he does not want to revisit his nightmares with her. She keeps pushing, not just to film him but also to bring him out of his shell. His sister tries to set him up with a completely interested friend of hers, but he rebuffs all her attempts at a relationship. The only person he seems to be able to be himself with is a local young man who works as a graffiti artist, tagging the walls of the Al-Amari Refugee camp in Palestine – their home – to bring beauty into the rundown neighborhood.

He wants desperately to live a normal life, but it seems out of reach.

Ziad is considered and idolized by all of those around him as a political prisoner. This conveniently glosses over the stark fact that he was not just a random Palestinian who was picked up for no reason. He was involved in the killing of a random bystander who was just innocently trying to fix his car by the side of the road. The victim ended up not even being an Israeli. It was another Palestinian, minding his own business, who had no part in their fight – or if he did, he was probably on their side. No one seems to care very much about this lost life.

True, Ziad was not the one who pulled the trigger. In fact, he didn’t even know that his friend had a gun until moments before the killing. It was just his terrible luck that he was the one who was caught, and it was his choice to not give up his friends. I’m not even saying that he was wrong in keeping quiet, but if he was not willing to try to prove himself innocent of course he is going to do time.

Politics was not the reason for it. Murder was. However, the film sometimes subtly acknowledges that fact. Ziad is obviously guilt-stricken and numbed after his release, and while much of this has to do with confinement and torture, he also obviously feels guilt about his part in the killing.

However, sometimes it allows characters – once even by Ziad, who normally tries to avoid politicizing what happened to him – to decry the injustice of Ziad’s arrest. Ziad’s arrest was not unjust. What happened to him in captivity, which is not shown except for in quick flashbacks and descriptions – that was apparently unfair, but his being arrested was not.

Also, and I recognize that as a Jewish man I am not the target audience, but the few Jewish Israeli characters shown here – an intimidating policewoman, a petulant boss, a carpet-bagging developer who picks the hero up on the side of the road – are played as cartoonish villains. Yes, I get that some of these characters will be bad people, but some may be empathetic, have some humanity. It would be nice if the film were willing to be a little more balanced in these portrayals.

But, okay, that is not the story that this film is telling. And the story that it is telling is very intriguing; dark, tragic, and in a cry for understanding. I hope it helps to open up a dialogue, because it is a discussion very much worth having.

Also, beyond its message, just in the basics Screwdriver is a very fine piece of filmmaking; intelligent, touching, complicated, humane and able to find beauty in an area of the world where it is scarce. It is a terrific motion picture, no matter where you fall in the debate.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: November 10, 2019.

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