‘The Time that Remains’: Palestinian Cinema and the Techniques of Self

lewis_mugS|O|S contributor

Lewis Sanders brings us his thoughts on memory, resistance and visuality in Elia Suleiman‘s latest film ‘The Time that Remains.’

The idea of a Palestinian cinema has been contested by the very directors, cinematographers, and actors that have produced it. Resistance through cinema, nostalgia through moving-images, and remembering through film have posited a visual experience of Palestine that is as bold as it is dynamic. As director of the award-winning film Paradise Now Hany Abu-Assad puts it, “Palestinian cinema is a cause.” Yet in recent years, some Palestinian directors have begun to tread away from this idea and experiment with cinema as a form of mediating their experiences for a globally conscious audience. Elia Suleiman’s most recent film The Time that Remains reflects this departure as it opts for film as a technology through which memory and experience mediate a multiplicity of becomings.

Though the film is described as “an examination of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 through to the present day,” it finds its wealth in recounting stories taken from the private diaries of Suleiman’s father and the letters his mother used to send to family members in Jordan. As a subtly absurd cinematographic experience sketching events such as the Nakba in 1948, the death of Nasser in 1970, the director’s expulsion from Israel in 1980, and Nazareth today, the film offers a microcosm in which to encounter memories that refuse to be placated by linear histories or their recollections. Yet, Suleiman is going a step further than depicting, representing, or retelling.

In The Time That Remains, Suleiman is producing a relative deterritorialization of Palestine by rendering its modern history/memory virtual and subsequently reterritorializing it through a visual experience that stresses a potential for familiar material to be recognized in one’s self as part of something global. It is the potential for becoming Palestinian and not a memory of Palestine that is presented to the spectator, audience, or visual bystander. As Suleiman once noted, “Look, when you are an artist, you should have faith that first of all your experience is not local; it is a universal experience. That’s one. When you compose an image you should never think about the boundaries of that image. But should this image exist in one locale, it should transgress the boundaries of that locale. So that means that if an Uruguayan is watching my film, and has an identification with the story of Fouad in the film, then this is where I believe I have traveled an experience, a universality of some sort, which I think cinema is up for. So this is not about moulding or summing up an experience located in Palestine. This is about all the experiences that can be conceptually, Palestinian-ally, called so.”

Elia Suleiman

It seems here that Suleiman’s thoughts on the film share a kinship with French thinker Gilles Deleuze‘s concept that cinema is a medium wherein new forms of thought have the potential to manifest. For Deleuze, this meant that cinema held the capacity to transform thought and, as such, produce perceptions which cause affections and affections which cause actions. For Suleiman it means that, “If they [the audience] took pleasure when watching the film, and went home and had a kind of positivity or an intuition or desire to aestheticize their dinner table, they have, as far as I’m concerned, went a step further to becoming pro-Palestinian.” The idea that The Time that Remains isn’t solely a film about the author’s memories or an examination of the development of Israel as a state, but that it is an experience which offers the potential for becoming, shows that a film can be a technology of the self which transgresses its own embodiment. In Suleiman’s own words, “I think each individual, when they watch a film of mine, that when it will be flattering me is when they have certain impulses of a positive construction, of a better life of their own. As individuals, and as communities, and that is for me then, a pro-Palestinian experience.”

Quotes taken from Electronic Intifada’s interview with director Elia Suleiman.

Lewis William Sanders IV is a Cuban-American Arabophile, visual anthropologist, and DJ currently living in Miami. His previous work in Cairo focused on territoriality and street art in revolutionary Cairo.

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