Laila's Birthday (Palestine/Tunisia/Netherlands; 71 min.)

directed by: Rashid Masharawi
starring:Mohammed Bakri; Nour Zoubi; Areen Omari
Eid milad Laila

Bruce says: "For anyone who has wondered about the look and feel of Palestinian communities, LAILA’S BIRTHDAY is a perfect starting point.  Filmed in the city of Ramallah, the film tracks a taxi driver during one very busy day.  Ramallah is six miles north of Jerusalem but it might as well be on the moon.  To get to Jerusalem, Palestinians must pass through a checkpoint which is time-consuming and humiliating. 

"Abu Laila is the name of the taxi driver.  He, his wife and daughter Laila live in a middle class area.  As he sets off for work he is reminded that it is Laila’s birthday; he must pick up a cake and birthday present before he returns home.  After dropping Laila off at school, Abu Laila starts out the day stopping by the Ministry of Justice to see if his judicial appointment has come through.  He was a former judge but after living abroad for many years he is trying to regain his position.  Palestinian bureaucracy is a match for any country; there is no such thing as a straight answer, not even helpful information.  He is told to come back again.  One passenger can’t decide whether to go to the cemetery or the hospital.  Another passenger leaves his cellphone in the taxi.  When Abu Laila stops by the police station to turn in the cellphone he is greeted suspiciously.  Later, the taxi accidentally hits a man.  Near the end of the day, Abu Laila is asked to drive to Jerusalem, something he doesn’t do.  His rule is that he doesn’t go through checkpoints. 

"All day the taxi navigates boulevards and narrow streets, up and down various hills.  Gunshots, explosions and ambulance sirens pepper the background.  The day is a study in contrasts.  Some of his fares live in areas where apartments are terraced and they appear to be the equivalent of our gated communities.  Other fares are deposited amid graffiti-riddled rubble.  By the end of the day we get many disparate pictures of what life is like in Palestinian territory.  As confusing as that picture may be, it is also illuminating and satisfying to see what is going on in areas that are constantly politicized on the evening news.  Mohammed Bakri plays Abu Laila and he is perfectly convincing as a conflicted, educated man who must live by his street smarts in the face of adversity.   3 1/2 cats"