A World Not Ours (Alam Laysa Lana) (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner20/02/2014

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 93 mins

Engaging and heartfelt documentary that takes a deeply personal approach to the Israeli-Palestine conflict by showing its impact on a small group of the director's family and friends within a 64 year old Palestinian refugee camp.

What's it all about?
Directed by Mahdi Fleifel, A World Not Ours is a documentary about the 64 year-old Ain-el-helweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, an area that's home to 70,000 people and is less than a square mile in size. Though the (Dubai-born, Danish-raised, now London based) director has never actually lived there, he recalls spending his summers there as a child, during which his father shot many home movies.

Fleifel intercuts home movies and archive material with his own footage, shot during repeated visits to Ain-el-helweh as an adult, during which he spends most of his time visiting his crotchety 80 year old grandfather (who has lived in Ain-el-helweh since he was 16), his unpredictable uncle Said and his best friend, Abu Eyad, who has grown increasingly disillusioned with Ain-el-helweh and is heavily involved with militant organisation Fatah.

The Good
Given that Ain-el-helweh has been referred to as a maximum security prison (the borders are policed and none of the residents are allowed to leave), it seems strange that Fleifel's memories of the place should be such happy ones - at one point he even likens it to visiting Disneyland. To his credit, he does a good job of illustrating how those memories came about, highlighting a strong sense of community (much of it based around football; he recalls several different World Cups) and various amusing characters (by the same token, his family connections position him as an insider-by-proxy, despite the fact that he has never been a resident).

However, as the focus of the film shifts increasingly to Abu Eyad, things take a more sombre tone, as there's a strong sense of young lives wasting away; Abu's frustration ultimately becomes palpable, as does Fleifel's inability to provide any real help for his friend – in the end, he admits to feeling very guilty when he leaves Ain-el-helweh and flies home on his European passport. Meanwhile, Fleifel's grandfather remains convinced that one day, all his people will return to Palestine, despite the evidence of the past 64 years.

The Equally Good
The film's skilful editing, coupled with Fleifel's own camerawork give a vivid impression of life within the camp. This is augmented by some intriguing and effective old-time soundtrack choices (such as The Ink Spots singing If I Didn't Care), subtly suggesting that for people like Fleifel's grandfather, time has essentially been frozen in place since the camp was created in 1948.

Worth seeing?
A World Not Ours is a thought-provoking and ultimately moving documentary that shines an effectively personal light on the human cost of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Worth seeing.

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Content updated: 11/12/2017 05:53

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