Houses over graves

June 9, 2024

A film explores the themes of identity and memory through the lens of history

Houses over graves


ou cannot build a colony on mass graves of the natives and expect to live in peace seems to be the theme of the movie. Horror in nature but horrific in political reality, the movie is an exceptional spin on the innocence of children and lies told by the adults. The brainwashing of the Israeli children at a young age is visible in the upbringing of Rebecca who drifts through the streets of Jerusalem indifferent to the history and the political boundaries within and around her house.

A House in Jerusalem is a cinematic masterpiece that weaves history, culture and human passion into a compelling drama. The film, directed by Muayad Alayan, digs deeply into the difficulties of identity, memory and bitter echoes from the past. Alayan, a Palestinian director noted for his moving storytelling and rich visual style, has repeatedly chosen subjects that examine the junction of personal and political history. Alayan’s past works, like Love, Theft and Other Entanglements and The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, have received critical acclaim for their convoluted narratives and emotional depth. His work emphasises how the Palestinians are forced to coexist with the Israelis – suppressed, betrayed, expelled from their houses. With A House in Jerusalem, available on Netflix, Alayan follows this tradition by creating a picture that is both personal and grandiose in scope.

Following the death of her mother in a car accident, the film narrates the story of Rebecca played by Miley Locke, a young Israeli girl who moves with her father to an apparently lovely house in Jerusalem as a new start. As they move there, Rebecca realises that the house has a tragic history linked to its previous tenants. The tale is told through a sequence of dramatic flashbacks and present-day exchanges, exposing the complex histories of those who have lived within the walls. One of the film’s most poignant elements is its use of the house as a prominent character. It is a mute witness to the developing drama, representing Jerusalem’s shared yet contested area. A silent watcher. The story expertly addresses issues of displacement, belonging and the long-term consequences of tragedy.

Rebecca meets Rasha, played by Sheherazade Makhoul Farrell, the Palestinian girl still waiting for her family long after settlements have been razed and illegally established in Jerusalem over the land of the original tenants. The movie is exceptional in its depiction of how the surviving Palestinians wear the keys to their houses, hopeful to return one day while Jews make a home over the ruins of someone else’s life of hard work and toil. The movie delves deep into the brutal denial of Palestinians to move in and out of the country while Jews who have never set foot in Palestine before can purchase land and move there whenever they want at the expense of the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their houses.

A House in Jerusalem is a must-see for its great storytelling, amazing photography and profound humanitarian message. It’s a film that will stick with you long after the credits roll, encouraging you to think, feel and, most importantly, comprehend.

Cinematically, A House in Jerusalem is a visual feast. The cinematography, by Sebastian Bock, captures the soul of Jerusalem with stunning clarity. From the busy marketplaces to the calm, tiny lanes, each frame conveys the feeling of a location that is both distinct and universal. The film’s use of light and shadow is particularly striking, expressing the underlying tensions and the elusive nature of truth and the bloody history of the city. The audio, written by Wassim Tayara, matches the visual storyline beautifully. The soundtrack combines traditional Middle Eastern melodies with modern orchestral arrangements to create an intriguing backdrop that adds to the film’s emotional depth.

While watching the film it is crucial to know about the Nakba. The Nakba is the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians through violent displacement and dispossession of land, property and belongings, as well as the destruction of their society and suppression of their culture, identity, political rights and national aspirations. The Nakba refers to both the 1948 Palestine War and exodus and Israel’s continued oppression and expulsion of Palestinians well into 2024. Overall, it addresses the fractures in the Palestinian society as well as the long-standing denial of Palestinian refugees’ and their descendants’ right to return. The movie may be labelled as a child’s horror fiction but it is also the horrific reality of the Palestinians since 1948.

The movie not only shows how Rebecca learns about the complex history and pain of the Palestinians but also the alienation and accusations by her own of being delusional. This shows how embedded the propaganda in the region is. Even if one wants to learn the truth they often cannot. Nominally, the movie is for children. However, it should definitely not be left to them to watch alone.

A House in Jerusalem is a must-see for its great storytelling, amazing photography and profound humanitarian message. The film will stick with you long after the credits roll, encouraging you to think, feel and, most importantly, comprehend. The political entwining of history from a child’s perspective is chilling, keeping in mind the ongoing genocide where 15,000 Palestinian children have been killed. Many more have been orphaned, injured and displaced with no roof, no shelter, no food and no education. Israeli settlers have already started building on the shores of Gaza. Israeli children, oblivious to the genocide, will be rolling in soon.

The writer is an undergraduate student of psychology at FC College, Lahore

Houses over graves