Simultaneously autobiographical and fantastical, the films of Elia Suleiman mine the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis for humor, pathos, and eerie poetry. The Time That Remains completes Suleiman’s trilogy that began with 1996’s Chronicle Of A Disappearance and continued with 2002’s Divine Intervention, and it’s the most ambitious, wide-ranging film of the trio, spanning 60 years of life in Nazareth via four vignettes drawn from Suleiman’s family history. Throughout, Suleiman contemplates how much has changed in his homeland since the Israeli declaration of independence in 1948, and how the natives have tried to maintain some continuity.
The Time That Remains opens in 1948, with middle-aged Nazarene men sitting at a cafe table while Israeli soldiers and members of the Arab Liberation Army fight not just for the possession of the land, but for the locals’ hearts. The image of older men staying out of the fray while younger men struggle recurs throughout the film, right up to a final section which has Suleiman playing “himself” as a grown man returning home to tend to his ailing mother. The Time That Remains’ first and last parts most resemble Suleiman’s earlier work, full of shocking violence interspersed with Buster Keaton/Jacques Tati-style blackout gags: a surrendering mayor coerced into posing for a celebratory photo, a man taking out the garbage with a tank cannon trained on him, a taxi visor that reveals a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe whenever the vehicle hits a bump, and so on.
Those segments are scattershot, and not as strong as the middle two parts of The Time That Remains, which maintain more of a narrative. The second section, set in 1970, alternates between scenes of the young Suleiman clashing with the administration at his Israeli-run primary school and scenes of his vibrant-looking father, Fuad, trying to live his life while the authorities curtail more and more liberty; the brief third section, set more than a decade later, shows Fuad becoming too exhausted for petty rebellions. The gag-structure persists (including a funny scene of young Suleiman watching Spartacus, and a clever chase sequence staged only in the top third of the frame), but by making the jokes more personal, Suleiman charts the process by which the concept of “home” loses its meaning.