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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Waiting

Film Review: Waiting

By Sonia Nettnin At The Chicago Palestine Film Festival

“The man auditions ‘the waiting experience’” (Photo courtesy of CPFF).

Director Rashid Masharawi’s latest film, “Waiting,” tells the story of a Palestinian director, T.V. journalist and cameraman who travel to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon in search of Palestinian actors for a Palestinian theater troupe. Areen Omari plays Bissan, the journalist and Mahmoud Al Massad plays Ahmad, a film director who wants to leave Palestine.

Set in the late ‘90s, the physical building for the Palestinian National Theater is under construction in Gaza. Abu Jamil, played by Abderrahman Abou El Qassem, convinces Ahmad to find Palestinian actors in neighboring Arab countries. In the past Ahmad aspired to reunite refugees and their dreams for a state through the theater. Abu Jamil reminds Ahmad of his dream, so Ahmad puts his emigration plans on hold and accepts reluctantly. Abu Jamil’s niece, Bissan persuades Ahmad to accept a former cameraman, played by Youssef Baroud that worked with her at a Palestinian TV station destroyed by Israeli bombing.

Although Ahmad is under the impression he will be auditioning actors, he discovers most of the people think the theater casting call is a front to help refugees return to Palestine. The sub-plot leads to an exhibition of subtle humor and moving life stories. The collisions of peoples’ expectations with the audition process are the dramatic events an audience would see at the theater, except the people are talking about their personal lives.

In hopes that loved ones in Palestine will see their audition tapes, people tell the latest news about their families or they make pleas to their loved ones with whom they have lost touch. The auditions explore the idea of what is reality and what is film when film mirrors the lives of real people.

Impatient Ahmad reacts to people with callousness and Bissan reprimands him for his rudeness. When Bissan criticizes Ahmad it is both verbal and silent. Whenever Ahmad makes a snide remark Bissan reacts with facial expressions, hand movements and sighs. Although Bissan, Ahmad and Lounir are protagonists, Ahmad has the dynamics of an antagonist, which creates tension between the characters. The plot and subplot are in conflict as the trio tours countries in search of actors but answers as well.

As the lead, female character Bissan is sensitive to peoples’ feelings and she has compassion for their desperate, life situations. As a daughter Bissan has not seen or heard from her father since the Oslo Accords, so she relates to the people who want to audition with their personal messages. Although people know her as a T.V. personality, Bissan has family problems like everyone else. Her disposition works in correlation with the humanist approach in this film.

Whether wives wait for their husbands or children wait for their fathers, the plight of women and children is one of the plot’s central themes. In one scene, women wait in line so they can fill their plastic containers called jerricans with water. Their wait for water is a daily chore.

The waiting in their life situations depends on negotiations at the political level. Bissan’s spontaneous news reporting for the audition sound checks conveys the rhetoric people have heard about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the road map to no man’s land in the past. The words of political leaders are mediation’s broken records. The waiting that is contingent upon definitive, concrete action from political leaders weaves into the emotional and logistical matters of peoples’ daily lives. People wait, but they have degrees of patience. A young girl saw her father when she was a toddler and a mother expresses how cranky her baby boy has been since his father left for work in Syria seven months ago.

When genuine actors arrive they want direction. Eventually Ahmad asks people to act “the waiting experience.” A 62-year-old man named Khalil wants specifics, and when he does not get the answers he wants he grows impatient and says, “I’m a man who had enough of waiting,” and then storms out of the room. The wait for a chance to act creates anxiety; and the wait for the opportunity to return to Palestine early creates apprehensive hope.

When the trio meets Diaspora Palestinians the refugees have idealized visions of Palestine. Palestine represents the right to return and their ability to reunite with people again. The fact that the land of ’48 has changed drastically has no bearing on their aspirations. Their wait is about their human rights to a better life and their right to live in their homeland.

Phone calls from Abu Jamil interrupt the auditions with real problems, such as the hospitals have run out of medical supplies and there is a demand for more ambulances. The theater construction budget must be diverted for emergency needs. The commentary about the EU dropping their financing comes at a time when the Palestinians have lost much-needed funding from the EU in 2006. How long can people live on credit when their human rights have been violated for 58 years?

Despite his pessimism, Ahmad’s epiphany is that he believes in his dream about reuniting refugees through the theater. The casting sessions and experiences with the Palestinians living in the Diaspora re-ignite his hope that Palestinians will return to their homeland. His realization is a sounding board that contains the aspirations of millions of refugees. Again film and reality intertwine in the web of life.

Overall Masharawi created a wonderful film. The outstanding cast, script, direction, and gorgeous music (composed, performed and mixed by REG Music Factory, Ralph El Khoury and Elie Barbar) make it an attractive film. The nay, oud and percussion music reflected the nuances of each country. One woman sings a song about a mother’s wait for her son’s return that strikes an emotional chord. The debkeh (Palestinian folklore) dancing is entertaining. “Waiting” has definite appeal for Western audiences.

When Bissan says they are filming the panorama of the Palestinian family that is what audiences will see.

For people who can not wait to see this film it is playing at the 5th Annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival.

Bissan Areen Omari
Ahmad Mahmoud Al Massad
Loumir Youssef Baroud
Abu Jamil Abderrahman Abou El Qassem
Abou Ziad Fouad Alshomali
Anouar Skuran Murtaja

Director Rashid Masharawi
Producers Hassan Khoutoum
Bassel Abdallah
Abdelhadi El Assadi
Adaptation Richard Lormand
Artistic Director Hussein Baydoun
Music REG Music Factory; Ralph Eel Khoury; Elie Barbar
Silkroad Production and Cinema Production Center
Duration: 1:30

-This film is showing Saturday, May 6 and Wednesday, May 10 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, located at 164 N. St. for the 5th Annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival. For more information please visit

Gene Siskel Film Center Schedule

Film Name Days and Times Showing

-Waiting Sat. May 6 at 7 P.M. and Wed. May 10 at 6 P.M

-Covering Perils: Sun. May 7 at 3 P.M.
Four Shorts on
Palestinian Themes

-Improvisation Sat. May 13 at 3:30 P.M. and Tues. May 16 at 6:30 P.M.
-Isochronism: Twenty-Four (films shown together on both days)
Hours in Jabba

-Avenge But One Sat. May 13 at 5 P.M. and Wed. May 17 at 8 P.M.
Of My Eyes

-All that Remained Mon. May 15 at 6:15 P.M. and Thurs. May 18 at 6:15
-Last Supper at Abu-Dis (films shown together on both days)

-Kings and Extras Fri. May 19 at 6 P.M. and Mon. May 22 at 8:15
-The Fourth Room (films shown together on both days)

-Since You’ve Been Gone Sat. May 20 at 3:15 P.M. and Tues. May 23 at 6 P.M.
-Yasmine’s Song (films shown together on both days)

-The Last Moon Sat. May 20 at 5 P.M. and Wed. May 24 at 6 P.M.


U.S. journalist and film critic Sonia Nettnin writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.

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