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The Flag (Alam)

A group Palestinian students living under Israeli occupation confront their tormentors and fight to retain their identity - activist film shows at the 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival


Tamer (Mahmood Bakri), Shekel (Mohammed Karaki) and Safwat (Muhammad Abed Elrahman) are high school students living in an undisclosed part of the occupied Palestinian territory. They are passionate about their country’s history, and refuse to play by the rulebook of their oppressor. They are joined by the beautiful Maysaa, who has just moved in from Jerusalem. Tamer becomes infatuated with the new addition to their group, and the two soon strike some sort of romance. The four young people face an uphill struggle in order to make themselves heard, but they are determined to stage a provocative and inspiring protest involving the titular national symbol.

The strongest moments of this 104-minute film take place inside the classroom, when students challenge their teacher, accusing him of erasing history and whitewashing genocide. That’s because the school teaches that the Palestinian fled the Israeli advances in 1948, when in reality they were either forcible displaced or decimated, euphemistically calling the mass murders of Arabs a “special military operation” (a phrase that might ring bells with Putin). A collective student walk out follows. They put it bluntly: “Israeli independence marks the first day of the Nakba” (also known as the Palestinian Catastrophe). In another crucial scene, the students confront a group a tree-hugging Israelis in a forest where a Palestinian village used to stand.

Israel has many accomplices amongst the Palestinians, including the police, the teachers and sometimes even your own parents. These people are not zionists, but instead Arabs too scared to challenge their oppressor. Some of them remain silent and complacent, while others become an agent for the oppressor. Simone de Beauvoir famously wrote: “the oppressor would not be so strong if he did not have accomplices among the oppressed’. Our young and passionate students have little sympathy for them, instead questioning their authority and urging that they support the Palestinian independence cause.

The Flag has good production values and decent actors. It works very well as an activist film, however not so much as a drama and certainly not as a romance. The script is too repetitive and narrative arc too flat in order to allow for full character development. There is hardly any chemistry between Tamer and Maysaa. And there’s very little conflict in the plot, except perhaps that Maysaa repeatedly demands that they do not call her “Mayssa”. This does change in the end, when the most adrenaline-inducing actions take place, but that’s a little too late. You will feel sympathy for these people for political reasons, yet the characters per se do not evoke identification. In other words, this is not a film that will make you cry, however it is educational and pleasant enough to watch.

The entire movie was filmed in Tunisia. The producer explained in a Q&A after the film that shooting costs are extremely high in Palestine. And presumably they would have to overcome obstacles similar to the ones of the students in the film. This is noticeable: the external settings don’t look like a nation subject to decades of incessant bombing and shooting.

Curiously, the story wraps up with the lyrics from Jewish singer and composer Leonard Cohen’s The Partisan: “When they poured across the border/ I was cautioned to surrender/ This I could not do/ I took my gun and vanished”.

The Flag showed at the 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival, as part of the Festival Favourites section.

By Victor Fraga - 07-12-2022

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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