Last night at the Jerusalem Film Festival, I attended the premiere screening of Man Without a Cellphone, directed by Sameh Zoabi. The film is a social comedy about a young man and his father who are fighting the system by opposing a cellphone tower that represents Israeli oppression, technology and modernity, all invading village life. They live in the village of Iksal, near Nazareth in the Galilee. Jawdat is just a regular guy, flirting with the girls, hanging out with his friends, studying for his Israeli college exams over and over again!
The Israeli college exams are not only in Hebrew – which make them easier for those who speak Hebrew as their mother tongue – but they also test for cultural material which is unfair to a population that exists and flourishes within another culture. As a result, many Israeli Arabs have gone abroad to study. In fact, Arab Israelis make up only 5% of the student population in Israel, despite their being some 20% of the population.
Jawdat is really interested in girls – doesn't matter if they are Muslim, Christian, or even Jewish! Recently, he has begun courting a girl from Ramallah via cellphone. One day, two guys from the Israeli security services pick him up to scare him. They've tracked his cellphone calls and want to know what he's doing calling the West Bank. Is he planning to assist in a terrorist attack? It doesn't even dawn on them that he might be thinking of moving to Ramallah and studying at Bir Zeit, thus doing their work for them! This scene is a bit forced, but certainly funny. In fact, the filmmaker himself is married to a woman from Ramallah.
Jawdat's father, suspected for having been responsible for destroying the tower, is a bit of an over-the-top irritable type. Together with some of his friends and with the assistance of his son, Jawdat, he plans a demonstration opposing the rebuilt cellphone tower that is standing in the middle of the agricultural lands and poisoning all of them with radiation. This is loosely based on a true story in which two young men, one of whom is still sitting in prison, blew up a cellphone tower that had been built near a school on the outskirts of their village.
Using comedy as its critical tool, the film offers both entertainment and some political/social comment at the same time.
Man Without a Cellphone was produced with financing from France, Israel, Palestine, Belgium and Qatar and is produced by Lama Films.