Jul 19, 2012|
(France/Germany) Comedy/Drama. Written and directed by Sylvain Estibal. Starring Sasson Gabay, Baya Belal, Myriam Tekaïa, Gassan Abbas, Ulrich Tukur. Category IIA. 99 minutes. Opened Jul 19.
For most people, fishing a pig out of the sea would probably result in newspaper headlines and a pork feast, but for poor Jafaar, a Palestinian fisherman living in the Gaza Strip, it is only the start of a series of secrets and disasters. Set on the eve of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 while bearing a title that calls to mind the celebrated P.G. Wodehouse novel, “When Pigs Have Wings” is—naturally—a political satire that sizzles with comedic absurdism. French journalist Sylvain Estibal, who has previously worked on a photo project in the West Bank area, once again turns his lens on the Arab-Israeli conflicts for his feature debut and crafts a lovely little film which, despite its unsophisticated ending, will be adored by an arthouse audience.
Iraqi-born actor Sasson Gabay, who gained international recognition in 2007 for his award-winning performance in the outstanding Israeli dramedy “The Band’s Visit” (which “Pigs” bears a gentle resemblance to), delivers another triumphant portrayal as the hapless protagonist. Unlike some of his fellow fishermen, who make sizable catches, Jafaar often comes home with tiny sardines and discarded flip-flops, and hence suffers the ire of wife Fatima (Baya Belal) and accrues debts to a local shopkeeper. But his luck doesn’t hit rock bottom until one day, when a shrieking 100-pound black pig lands in his fishing net. “Allah! What have I done to deserve this?!” he cries, for this unclean animal is strictly forbidden—according to Islam, it not allowed to set foot on land, let alone to be kept or eaten.
Panicking, Jafaar consults his flamboyant barber friend Slim (Gassan Abbas)—a Lebanese Civil War veteran—who pushes an old rifle into his hands and suggests that he kill the pig at once before serious trouble ensues. However, Jafaar is too merciful to pull the trigger, and his subsequent attempt to sell it to a UN official (a cameo by German actor Ulrich Tukur) proves to be futile, too. Amidst his hectic antics trying to hide the pig from Fatima, the townsfolk and the duo of Israeli soldiers who have taken to his roof to watch the roads, Jafaar realizes he can squeeze some commercial benefit from this misfortune. Across the fence on the Israeli side, where pigs are also deemed unholy, a young Russian-Jewish woman named Yelena (Myriam Tekaïa) is in need of a male pig for the pig farm she’s secretly running. Her generous payment can get Jafaar out of debt, but there’s one catch—she doesn’t want the pig itself, just its sperm for breeding purposes.
As Jafaar starts this business venture, which requires him to—if you’ll excuse my expression—get the juice and go through checkpoints to deliver it to Yelena on a daily basis, plenty of sperm jokes follow. Thankfully, Estibal isn’t carried away by the slapstick, and maintains an unflinching look at the hardships and political constraints that all the ordinary people in Gaza like Jafaar have to live out. The simple yet heartfelt screenplay and Gabay’s nuanced comic performance together convey a humanistic sympathy with a sense of wry humor. Even when a group of Islamic fundamentalists finds out about the pig and forces Jafaar into a suicide bombing mission, the tragedy contains a fair share of laugh-out-loud moments.
From the very casting of Gabay, who’s actually Jewish, to a subplot centered on Fatima and an Israeli soldier discussing Brazilian soap operas, the core message of peace and mutual understanding can be spotted throughout the film, and isn’t always presented with subtlety. But it’s the abrupt and unnatural coda, depicting a tackily metaphorical reconciliation, that becomes annoyingly in-your-face and prevents this good film from being truly great. That aside, bolstered by understated yet solid camerawork and a cutesy soundtrack by Argentinean electronic string quartet Aqualactica, “Pigs” remains a funny and thought-provoking exercise that blows a refreshing breeze into the action-laden summer cinema lineup.