Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Immigration to the US has long been a popular subject for filmmakers. At least as far back as Charlie Chaplin's The Immigrant the issues facing those trying to realise the American Dream have been explored. But recently there has been a shift in emphasis from films exploring the migration from more traditional areas such as western Europe (The Godfather trilogy, The Golden Door, Gangs Of New York) and Mexico (Echo Park, L.A., Bread And Roses) to those heading for the promise of a better life from even farther afield and, arguably, further away in terms of cultural distance.

And if the souring immigrant dream had a tendency to fuel the ghettos of those earlier films, the characters on the move in more recent movies, such as The Visitor and Gran Torino, seem even more isolated than their forbears.

Copy picture

Take single mum Muna (Nisreen Faour). She's working her socks off at a bank in Ramallah while striving to bring up her son Fadi (Melkar Muallem) against the stressful West Bank backdrop. At the end of her tether with her life and at a loss to envision a solid future for her son, a successful Green Card application for the US offers her a chance at a fresh start.

Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side and their move Stateside proves more difficult than she had imagined. Even getting through the airport is an ordeal. After trying to explain she is from the Palestinian territories, the customs officer asks: Occupation? Yes, it is, she replies. But, more crucially, she accidentally has her cash confiscated.

Unlike many other immigrant films, it isn't a big city they are heading to, but rural Illinois, a place where sticking out is a lot easier than fitting in. With her accent against her and the US invasion of Iraq ongoing, finding a job proves nigh on impossible. So, although telling her extended family she has a job in a bank, she is actually flipping burgers at the joint next door.

Fadi, meanwhile, is having no more luck in school. Dressing like an FOB (fresh off the boat) he quickly finds himself falling prey to a bully unable to grasp the geographical difference between Palestine and Iraq. As the powder keg begins to throb, something's got to give.

Dabis is certainly to be praised for her lightness of touch, filling many of her scenes with a humour often lacking from films addressing issues of migration. Despite dealing with heavy issues, she finds plenty of comedy in the situation and the film treads a path somewhere between last year's Couscous and The Visitor. The scenes involving family, particularly those in Ramallah, recall the former, detailing the minutae of family life in a realistic way that never feels forced. Dabis also finds time to address the homesickness felt by many who uproot themselves and their families and the mechanisms they develop to cope with this loss.

But the more political aspects of the film feel over-simplified. US citizens are depicted either as rampant racists or sympathetic to a fault and the film's 'people are people, no matter where they were born' motif has been somewhat done to death of late. Particularly problematic is a potential romance plotline between Muna and the school head (Joseph Ziegler), who, in what many will feel is a message too far, also just happens to be Jewish.

That said, there is much to be enjoyed here, particularly the acting from Nisreen Faour, who is commanding in the central role of Muna, and she's offered staunch support from the likes of Hiam Abbass and Alia Shawkat. Although working better on a family level than a political one it may be that, for mainstream audiences, a spoonful of sugar will help the medicine go down.

Reviewed on: 16 Apr 2009
Share this with others on...
Amreeka packshot
When a divorced Palestinian woman and her teenage son move to rural Illinois at the outset of the Iraq war, they find their new lives full of challenges
Amazon link

Director: Cherien Dabis

Writer: Cherien Dabis

Starring: Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem, Hiam Abbass, Yussuf Abu-Warda, Alia Shawkat, Joseph Ziegler

Year: 2009

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: US, Canada, Kuwait


Sundance 2009

Search database:

Related Articles:

Sundance Diary: Day Three

If you like this, try:

The Visitor