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Friday 23 August 2013

The Attack, Film (2012), written and directed by Ziad Doueiri, 9* out of 10

Herzliyah in modern day Israel; the Arab Israeli surgeon Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) has reached the pinnacle of his career. As he is decorated with the highest prize the Israeli Association of Surgeons awards for excellence. Happily married for 15 years, he knows how to confidently deal with the occasional expression of suspicion from his Jewish-Israeli co-workers and patients, among whom he has made good friends. All his focus has been on building a successful career and social-life as an Arab citizen of the Jewish state; but a suicide bombing in a restaurant not far from the hospital where he works will turn his world upside down. It is a beginning of a journey that will force him to reengage with his roots and change how he reconciles his conflicting identities.

Based on a bestseller by the Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra (a male writer who has his novels published using his wife’s first name), the talented and courageous Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri wrote and directed this riveting psychological thriller in Israel with a largely Israeli cast. The screenplay brings out nuances in the characters, which are skilfully picked up by the excellent actors. Ali Suliman’s performance as Dr. Jafaari is outstanding.
Due to the politics of the Middle East, The Attack has been banned from being shown in all Arab countries. Moreover, by shooting the film in Israel, the Lebanese director has broken Lebanese law that bans Lebanese citizens from any contact with Israel. 

One can only hope that as many citizens of the countries which have banned this film from being shown in their cinemas, on their travels outside the Arab world. Irrespective of the politics around its release in Arab countries, The Attack is a moving and intelligent psychological thriller that holds its audience on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

Friday 9 August 2013

Chimerica, play by Lucy Kirkwood, Harold Pinter Theatre, London 7* out of 10

Beijing, Tienanmen Square, on 4 June 1989.  From the balcony of his hotel room, the young American photo-journalist Joe Schofield  (Stephen Campbell Moore) takes a picture of an iconic moment in the attempted uprising of Chinese students against their government.  23 years later, shortly before the 2012 US presidential election, he returns there on another assignment. He seeks out his fixer from former days, Zhang Lin (Benedict Wong), who leads a lonely existence as an English teacher. Lin has never been able to get over the death of his wife.  Returning to America, Joe gets it into his head to find out about what happened to the "tank-man", the man with the shopping bag on Joe's photo from 1989, who refused to budge when a tank advanced. Is he dead? Is he living incognito in the United States? Times have changed and the part symbiotic part adversarial relationship between China and America, which inventive International Relations professors Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularik have named Chimerica, will intervene into the lives of Joe and the people he involves in his search.

Lucy Kirkwood has written an ambitious new political play with a well thought out and intricate plot and some great lines.  In contrast with the plot, key characters such as Joe and his sidekick Mel (Sean Gilder) are written as rather flat stereotypes, with whom it is difficult to get an emotional connection. Exceptions are Joe’s love interest the marketing expert Tessa played with the right range of emotionality and wit by Claudie Blakley, his editor Frank (Trevor Cooper) who gets some of the best lines to deliver with feeling. There is a very competent ensemble cast with Benedict Wong deserving a special mention for a moving performance. Director Lindsey Turner knows how to make the action move forward so that the length of the play never leads to boredom in the audience. Award winning designer Es Devlin’s has come up with the best set I have seen in a while: it perfectly supports the direction and pace of a plot moving among time and space. 

This co-production with Headlong is the most successful transfer from the Almeida Theatre to London's Westend in some time. Despite “Chimerica’s” shortcomings, it was good to see a sell-out audience of all ages enjoying this intelligent and topical new play.