Arabic-language Theatrical poster
|Directed by||Scandar Copti
|Produced by||Moshe Danon
|Written by||Scandar Copti
|Music by||Rabih Boukhari|
|Cinematography||Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov|
|Editing by||Scandar Copti
|Running time||120 minutes|
|Box office||$2.2 million|
The film contains five story lines, each of which is presented in a non-chronological fashion. Some events are shown multiple times from varying perspectives. A young Israeli Arab boy, Nasri, who lives in the Ajami neighborhood of Jaffa, narrates the film.
In the first story, Nasri's neighbor - a teenage boy - is shot to death by a well-known Bedouin clan in a drive-by shooting while working on his car. Nasri explains that the intended target was his older brother Omar, who had previously sold the car to his neighbor. The botched hit was revenge for a loss of one of Bedouin clan members, who was shot and paralyzed by Nasri's uncle in a dispute. Nasri and his younger sister are sent to Jerusalem, while Omar, his mother, and grandfather stay behind. Fearing for his family's safety, Omar seeks protection and some financial assistance by Abu Elias, an affluent restaurant owner, and well known member of the Jaffa community. Elias arranges for a three day cease fire, and hires a lawyer to represent Omar in court. During this time, Nasri and his sister return home. At the conclusion of the court session, the judge declares that Omar must pay tens of thousands of dinars - the equivalent of tens of thousands of US dollars - in order that peace be restored. Omar is given three weeks to make good on his payment. Omar and his friend Shata attempt petty crime in order to come up with the finances, but are unsuccessful at bringing in enough money. Omar's mother attempts to persuade him to escape with the family, but Omar refuses to leave, believing that there is no place to run to.
The second story introduces a young teenaged boy named Malek who lives in the Palestinian territory of Nablus. Malek is illegally employed in Abu Elias's restaurant, and works out of desperation to make enough money for his ailing mother's bone marrow transplant surgery. Malek is friends with Omar, who has also become a recent employee at the restaurant. It is also revealed that Omar - a Muslim - is in love with Elias's daughter Hadir, a Christian. Elias does not approve of their relationship, and later in the film, fires Omar after catching them in the surreptitious act of flirtation.
The third story shows a brief, but violent encounter between an older Jewish man, and three drug dealing male Palestinian neighbors. The dispute begins when the Jewish man complains to the young men that he has not been able to sleep, due to the fact that their bleating sheep keep him up all night. The disagreement soon escalates, and one of the young men mortally stabs the Jewish man. The three young men go into hiding before the police arrive.
The fourth story introduces an Israeli police officer named Dan, nicknamed Dando by his friends. Viewers learn that Dando's younger brother Yoni has gone missing after recently completing his service in the Israeli Defense Force. While rumors circulate that Yoni may have run away and became very religious, Dando's family - mother and father specifically - suspect that he may have been kidnapped or murdered by a Palestinian terrorist organization. Dando - a family man with a wife, daughter, mother, father, and sister living under the same roof - has remained strong for the family, as they make attempts at locating his brother. Later in the story, Dando is informed that the army has discovered the remains of what is believed to be a murdered Israeli soldier. It is soon thereafter confirmed that the remains Yoni's, and Dando - emotionally traumatized - vows to find the murderer and bring him to justice.
In the fourth story, viewers learn of the character Binj, who is played by co-director Scandar Copti. Binj is an eccentric cook who works in Elias's restaurant. He is assumed to be in his mid to late 30s. He is also close friends with Omar and Nasri's uncle. Binj is in love with a Jewish girl from Tel Aviv, and is thinking of moving in with her, much to the dismay of Omar's uncle, who expresses outrage at the idea. At the same time, Binj is forced to hold drugs for his brother while he remains in hiding. It is revealed that Binj's brother was the one who stabbed the Jewish man in Jaffa. Both Binj and his father are taken in and interrogated by Israeli police. After his release, Binj's house is searched on a frequent basis, but the drugs are never discovered. When Binj is found dead in his apartment not long afterward, Malek and Omar initially suspect that he was murdered by a group of Israeli men who showed up to his house early one morning, as Malek was leaving for work. It is later revealed that Binj - tired of the constant search and seizure by the police - had discarded the majority of the drugs, and snorted the remainder. As such, Binj dies of a drug overdose, and it is discovered by the viewer that the men who were previously seen by Malek entering his house, were policemen attempting to find the hidden drugs. Unbeknownst to Malek and Omar, Binj put flour inside the packages after flushing the drugs down the toilet, in an attempt to mock the police, should they ever return. After Binj's death, Omar discovers the flour and - thinking it is the drugs - decides to sell it back to the original supplier in an attempt to pay off his debt to the Bedouins. He also recruits Malek, convincing him to split the profit in order to pay for his mother's surgery. Abu Elias learns of their plans and tips off the police, thinking Omar will be caught, thus ending the relationship between Omar and his daughter. Initially, Elias fires Malek after learning of his involvement with drugs. After Malek's pleading however, Elias changes his mind, and instructs him to meet the dealers with Omar, but warns him not to carry the drugs on his person. He assures Malek that once Omar is taken into custody by the police, Malek can return to the restaurant. Like Omar and Malek however, Elias does not realize that the drugs are fake.
The fifth story shows the encounter between Omar, Malek, and the drug suppliers. Toward the beginning of the film, viewers are shown the scene, and initially led to believe that Malek was shot to death by the drug suppliers, once they discovered the drugs were fake. It is revealed later however, that the suppliers were actually Israeli police executing a sting operation. It is also revealed that Omar's younger brother Nasri insisted on accompanying Omar and Malek to the meeting, afraid that something bad would happen to his brother. Upon arrival, Omar tells Nasri to stay in the car, and at Malek's urging, leaves his gun behind as well. At the meeting, the police tackle and beat Omar and Malek after they discover the drugs are fake. Dando, who is a part of the sting, sees Malek with a pocket watch that he believes belonged to Yoni. What Dando does not realize is that Malek had innocently bought the watch off of a street hawker, and had been planned on presenting it as a gift to Abu Elias. In a fit of rage, Dando aims the gun at Malek with the intent to murder him. However Nasri, who hadn't stayed in the car as ordered, sees the gun pointed at Malek, and shoots Dando with Omar's gun. He is then shot and killed by another officer. Omar escapes down an alleyway, his future uncertain.
The film was written and directed by Scandar Copti (a Palestinian, born and raised in Yafa) and Yaron Shani (a Jewish Israeli), Ajami explores five different stories set in an actual impoverished Christian-and-Muslim Arab neighborhood of the Tel Aviv - Jaffa metropolis, called Ajami. The many characters played by non-professional actors lend the story the feel of a documentary. The Arab characters speak Arabic among themselves, the Jewish characters speak Hebrew among themselves, and scenes with both Arab and Jewish characters are a naturalistic portrait of characters using both languages, as they would in real life. The film was co-produced by French, German and Israeli companies – Inosan Productions, Twenty Twenty Vision, Israel Film Fund, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, ZDF, Arte, World Cinema Fund.
The film currently holds a 97% 'Certified Fresh' rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 64 reviews with an average rating of 7.7/10.
In Israel the film was very well received, and won the Ophir Award for Best Film, defeating Golden Lion Award-winner Lebanon. It has been compared to Pier Paolo Pasolini's early films, and to more recent crime films such as City of God and Gomorra.
Ajami was the first predominantly Arabic-language film submitted by Israel for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and it was nominated for the award. It lost to El secreto de sus ojos (Argentina). It was the third year in a row that an Israeli film was nominated for an Academy Award.
- Cannes Film Festival:
- Caméra d'Or - Special Mention (Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani) (won)
- European Film Awards:
- European Film Academy Discovery (nominated)
- Jerusalem Film Festival:
- Best Full-Length Feature (won)
- London Film Festival:
- Ophir Award:
- Best Film (won)
- Best Director (Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani) (won)
- Best Screenplay (Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani)(won)
- Best Music (Rabih Boukhari) (won)
- Best Editing (Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani) (won)
- Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival:
- Best Eurasian Film (won)
- Thessaloniki International Film Festival
- Golden Alexander (won)
- 82nd Academy Awards:
- Foreign Language Film (nominated)
- Ajami on Free TV Movie Database