The Stranger


Reviewed by: Mateusz Tarwacki

The Stranger
"It all seems to co-create a picture of a world of the emotional post-apocalypse."

The autumn sky stretches over the picturesque Golan Heights, apples ripen to harvest and the first leaves fall from the trees. While the landscape is certainly breathtaking, one can feel the tense atmosphere of anticipation not only for the end of the annual life cycle, but also for something more dire. This area is divided between Israel, Syria and Lebanon – it is a place marked by the memory of war, a place where it is difficult to put down roots. The breath of freedom may never come, because winter will probably come first. The protagonist of Ameer Fakher Eldin's debut, The Stranger, who fits perfectly into this landscape, is Adnan (Ashraf Barhom).

Like Golan Heights itself, Adnan has been marked by life. He is a destroyed, rejected person who has chosen to live on the margins. As a child, he was disinherited by his father (Mohammad Bakri), he did not complete his medical studies at Moscow university. Due to his feeling of unfulfilled duty and failure, he distances himself from his wife Leyla (Amal Kais) and daughter (Amer Hlehel). Adnan spends his days getting drunk and taking care of the farm and the few animals that remain on it, which seem to be a mirror image of himself. The cow gives milk with blood, and the three-legged dog is unable to defend itself against other, more aggressive animals.

It all seems to co-create a picture of a world of the emotional post-apocalypse. The director is ruthless towards his hero. Even when Adnan's redemption opportunity arises, when he can prove that he can heal not only animals but also people, even this chance is taken away from him – just like everything in his life. Eldin paints a very gloomy picture of a place somewhere in between, which cannot identify itself and is suspended, deteriorating more and more, disintegrating into smaller fragments, burying ordinary people under the weight of national tensions.

One can get the impression that The Stranger bears the hallmarks of another film on a very similar theme, in which the protagonist is stubbornly staying in a place marked by war, namely Zaza Urushadze’s Tangerines from 2013, with the difference that Adnan has no way of influencing the place that surrounds him. He is merely a poor cog that has fallen out of the mechanism and is no longer able to drive it to movement.

The key question in the context of the entire film is asked by Leyla – “How long can anyone live in the shadow of someone else?” The protagonist lives in the shadow of his father, the pressure of friends who try to help him, and the importance of national tragedies. The Stranger is a personal film conveying the feeling of powerlessness and nonsense of someone who remains at heart with his bleeding homeland and yet is unable to do anything for it, as much as he can do for himself. Eldin reminds us that every human being in captivity is a stranger.

The Stranger is a gloomy poetic film, and the constant tone of mourning can give the impression of the creator's cruelty towards the hero. The male-centric, long, funeral eulogy lacks not only consolation and even illusory hope, but also the presence of women, as if the wife and daughter were only elements of Adnan’s despair, not the living people who miss him.

Reviewed on: 01 Oct 2021
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The Stranger packshot
In a small village in the occupied Golan Heights, the life of a desperate unlicensed doctor, who is going through an existential crisis, takes another unlucky turn when he encounters a man wounded in the war in Syria.

Director: Ameer Fakher Eldin

Writer: Ameer Fakher Eldin

Starring: Ashraf Barhom, Mohammad Bakri, Amal Kais, Amer Hlehel

Year: 2021

Runtime: 112 minutes

Country: Syria, Qatar, Germany, Israel, Palestinian Territories


Venice 2021

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