A contemporary crime drama edged with Greek tragedy, Ajami is an untidy, despairing, oddly exhilarating joint venture by writer-directors Scandar Copti, an Israeli Arab, and Yaron Shani, an Israeli Jew. Set on the tinderbox margins of a rundown quarter of the Tel Aviv-adjacent city of Jaffa, the movie's multiple plots and unwieldy, mostly non-pro ensemble of Arabs and Jews might better lend themselves to a television series. Yet it teems with life, energized by fierce formal ambitions. Barely held together by chapter headings, the action — which opens smack in the middle of its converging storylines with a mistaken drive-by shooting — switches dizzyingly between time, place and point of view, and the fact that you can't tell one kind of Semite from another works its own sadly ironic magic. The bleak future Ajami projects for peace within and across Israel's borders can be hard to bear, but this sympathetically humanist movie takes its place among a new generation of Middle Eastern films that measure the terrible toll of war not only in dead bodies, but also in the very fabric of everyday life, for Arabs as well as Jews.
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