“Amreeka” (2009). Cast: Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem, Hiam Abbass, Yussef Abu Warda, Joseph Ziegler, Alia Shawkat, Jenna Kawar, Selena Haddad, Andrew Sannie, Daniel Boiteau, Brodie Sanderson, Glen Thompson, Miriam Smith. Director: Cherien Dabis. Screenplay: Cherien Dabis. www.amreeka.com.
Anyone who has ever gone hunting for a new house or apartment knows how taxing it can be to find a suitable place to hang one’s hat. So imagine what it might be like if that notion were applied on a larger scale, to find a community—or even a country—to call one’s own. And, taking that idea to an even greater extreme, consider what’s involved in finding oneself at home in one’s very own skin. Those are some of the challenges explored in the comedy-drama “Amreeka,” now available on DVD.
Life on the Palestinian West Bank in 2002 is often frustrating for Muna Farah (Nisreen Faour). As a single mother separated from her philandering husband, she struggles to raise her teenage son, Fadi (Melkar Muallem), under trying circumstances. Just being a working mom is difficult enough, but add in Muna’s two-hour commute from her home in Bethlehem to her job as a bank officer in the Palestinian territory (facing intrusive scrutiny at government checkpoints all along the way), and the routine of her everyday life becomes that much more arduous. She’s also preoccupied with shedding some pounds, an undertaking where the losses seemingly involve everything but weight. Clearly, Muna is ready for a change.
That opportunity arrives somewhat unexpectedly one day when Muna receives a notice that her application for a visa to visit Amreeka (the Arabic word for “America”) has been approved. The news comes as a surprise, since she had all but forgotten filing the application, having done so when she and her ex-husband were still together and making plans for a once-hoped-for future. She’s initially unsure what to do, but when Fadi reminds her of all the everyday difficulties she faces, Muna agrees that a fresh start is the best course. And so Muna and Fadi relocate to rural northern Illinois to join the family of her émigré sister Raghda (Hiam Abbass) and brother-in-law Nabeel Halaby (Yussef Abu Warda).
Despite the promise of a new life, however, Muna and Fadi find that making the transition isn’t always easy. For instance, Muna’s job search doesn’t live up to her expectations; even with her years of banking experience, she’s forced into taking a job as counter help at the local White Castle. Meanwhile, Fadi struggles to fit in at his new school, where prejudiced classmates unhesitatingly show off their cultural ignorance, often to the new arrival’s detriment. And even the well-meaning support of Raghda’s family sometimes isn’t enough, as they, too, face acceptance challenges of their own, despite having been established in the U.S. for years. But if that weren’t enough, all of the protagonists run headlong into the simmering anti-Islamic sentiments that arose in early 2003 during the opening days of the Iraq War. But this is an irony if there ever were one, since Muna and her family aren’t Muslim (Muna’s family’s religion is never definitively identified in the film, but it’s been suggested that they’re Palestinian Christians, given that they originally hailed from Bethlehem).
As time passes, however, Muna and Fadi find allies who help ease their transition, most notably Muna’s nerdy co-worker Matt (Brodie Sanderson), Fadi’s principal Mr. Novatski (Joseph Ziegler) and, to a certain extent, even Raghda and Nabeel’s daughters (Alia Shawkat, Jenna Kawar, Selena Haddad). But the assistance of these newfound friends doesn’t stem so much from what they do but from what they say and the attitudes they exhibit. They’re all clearly comfortable in their own skin, and the new immigrants gradually pick up on this. The seemingly perennial outcasts, who never really felt at home in their so-called homeland and have often felt even less so in their new country, begin to feel more at ease by drawing on these examples. As their perspectives shift, Muna and Fadi realize that what they call “home” ultimately begins with them, with what they believe constitutes home and not just their physical surroundings (or, in Muna’s case, even with her own body). They grow into their new environment, making the home they want for themselves, based on their beliefs, just as what anyone would do in any other conscious creation/law of attraction undertaking.
“Amreeka” is a charming independent film, full of warmth, heart tugs and gentle humor. And others apparently agree; the film captured the FIPRESCI Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, and it has been nominated for three awards (including best feature and best female lead) at the upcoming Independent Spirit Awards. Admittedly, the film’s writing and editing could have been a little tighter in spots, but all in all, this is an engaging and delightful little picture. It makes a good choice for alternative viewing at this time of year, when many of the new theatrical releases often leave much to be desired.
The next time you’re looking for a new place, check the classifieds and the real estate listings, as you ordinarily would, but be sure to check your beliefs, too, for that’s where your new home really gets its start. Pay particular attention to beliefs related to your innermost heartfelt feelings and emotions, because they’ll help guide you to the place where you’re supposed to be. For in the end, you’ll find, just as Muna and Fadi ultimately do, that home truly is where the heart is.
Copyright © 2010, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
A lifelong movie fan and longtime student of metaphysics (with an emphasis in law of attraction/conscious creation principles), free-lance writer/editor Brent Marchant is the author of Get the Picture: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies (Moment Point Press, www.momentpoint.com, available in soft cover and Kindle formats). His additional writing credits include contributions to www.beliefnet.com and to Divine Revolution, Sethnet Journal and Reality Change magazines. Brent also maintains an ongoing blog about metaphysical cinema at www.getthepicturebrentmarchant.blogspot.com, which includes listings for the internet and broadcast radio shows on which he frequently appears as a guest. He holds a B.A. in magazine journalism from Syracuse University and resides in Chicago. You can email him at email@example.com.