Personal Affairs

Personal Affairs ★★★★


Pupil-overtakes-the-master time, as I like this even more than my favorite Elia Suleiman film (The Time That Remains). He gets a big, isolated thank you in the closing credits, confirming my late-breaking speculation about his influence; turns out Haj actually worked on Time That Remains, as a set decorator. Key word is "late-breaking," though. While Haj borrows Suleiman's droll absurdism and structural gamesmanship, her sensibility is warmer, less caustic; all of the vignettes—even the saddest one—conclude on lovely, unapologetically sentimental notes. And because the characters are related, it's not even clear for a long time that they inhabit what are essentially separate vignettes (as opposed to, say, a sprawling Altmanesque tapestry). The film gradually expands and then just as gradually contracts, with the first narrative threads introduced being the last resolved, and vice versa. Some clunky moments—the woman playing the American movie producer or whatever is terrible—but Haj's optimism in the face of despondency penetrated my armor multiple times. It's amazing how differently a potentially crowdpleasing setpiece plays when it's mediated by the reflection of the two Israeli security officers impassively observing it.

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