The film “The Professor” was shown for the first time at the Toronto Film Festival, and subsequently at many festivals and events. It is the first feature film by director and producer Farah Nabulsi, who in 2020 presented the short film “The Gift” that was nominated for an Oscar and won a BAFTA award.
The cast of “The Professor” includes Saleh Bakri in the role of the teacher, “Bassem,” Mohamed Abdel Rahman in the role of the student, “Adam,” and Imogen Poots in the role of “Lisa,” the British volunteer at the school. The film was longlisted for the British Independent Film Awards 2023 in 3 categories: Best Debut Director, Best Debut Screenwriter and Best Producer, and last December he received the Jury Award from the Red Sea Film Festival.
A true story and a fictional movie
The Professor's film begins with two parallel narrative lines. The first is during which we get to know the teacher, “Bassem,” who teaches the English language in a Palestinian school, the majority of whose students have been to Israeli prisons. He is accompanied in the same class by the brothers “Adam” and “Jacob.”
The first was a teenager and the second was over 23 years old. He spent part of his adolescence and early adulthood in detention and emerged carrying an energy of anger and hatred.
This energy actually exploded when the Israeli authorities expelled his family from their home, then a settler stole olives from their land, so Jacob clashed with him and the settler killed him. As usual in these cases, he escaped punishment.
While the second line represents the parents of the Israeli soldier who was captured by the Palestinian resistance to demand the release of 1,200 male and female detainees and Palestinian children in Israeli prisons. This is the true story that occurred in 2011, so the director decided to combine it with the fictional plot in her first feature film.
The two lines converge when the teacher, “Bassem,” accepts to hide the Israeli soldier in his house, at the same time he shelters the student, “Adam,” who lost his home and his brother on two consecutive days. Things become more complicated with the emotional relationship between “Bassem” and the volunteer, “Lisa,” which forces him to reveal About his more interesting past than his life as a quiet teacher suggests.
A scenario that destroyed the idea
The story of the movie “The Professor” at first glance seems really exciting, and engages with several topics worthy of discussion, but unfortunately during implementation this story lost its luster, for several reasons, the first of which is the scenario that lacks smoothness, and resorted to twisting the events several times to reach the desired results, or the next point. In the plot, such as the Israeli forces raiding Bassem's house while Adam finds the kidnapped soldier's hideout and protects the teacher, or Lisa finding the firearm that Bassem keeps in a book in his library.
The dialogue was also the film's most important weakness, as it was weak, direct, and rhetorical in many places, especially in the parts related to revealing the teacher's past, or his last conversation with the kidnapped soldier's father. This directness deprived the viewer of the ability to read between the lines.
These defects clearly affected the actors’ performance. The script did not give them sufficient depth to their characters. Rather, these characters were dominated by a clear division into good and evil, good and bad, so the acting performance was at the same level of flatness.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the movie “The Professor” is the love relationship that brought together the hero, “Bassem,” and the English volunteer, “Lisa.” It is not only an interfering relationship that can be removed and the plot will not be affected at all, but it also distracts the viewer from the main issue that the movie is grappling with, which is The unfair comparison between the importance of the Israeli spirit compared to the Palestinian one, and changed the course of the work to the extent of the possibility of love between a Palestinian teacher and activist and a British woman, given that this nationality carries the legacy of the cursed Balfour Declaration, which was the starting point of the Palestinian tragedy.
Rather, the film makers devoted more space to this relationship than the tragedy of Bassem losing his teenage son and then his wife as a result of this loss, or Adam’s relationship with his mother after her eldest son was killed in front of her, and her house was demolished so she became a relative’s guest and never appeared on screen again.
The dilemma of making a Palestinian film
The Palestinian film director/director bears two burdens when presenting any cinematic work that deals with the issue. The first is to understand and use the artistic medium in the best possible way, whether acting, script, photography, or music. The second burden is to present the issue itself.
The Palestinian film represents the issue of its country in the international forums during which it is shown, and the better its makers use the medium, the more widespread and broad it means, thus conveying the true picture of what is happening in Palestine amidst the false Israeli narratives spread by Hollywood cinema and its media.
Comparing the films “The Professor” and “The Gift” by director Farah Nabulsi, we find many differences, all of which are in favor of the film “The Gift,” which, despite its shortness, presented a coherent story that illustrates the suffering of the ordinary Palestinian man even when he undertakes a very simple activity such as buying an electric refrigerator. A gift to his wife, while when the director resorted to a more complex story, the Palestinian issue faded amidst the tangled details of her plot.
The film presented a large number of subplots, such as the teacher’s relationship with the English volunteer, the surrogate fatherhood relationship that brought him together with “Adam,” then the narrative line regarding the kidnapped soldier, and “Adam’s” desire to take revenge on the settler who killed his brother at the beginning of the work, and this desire only appeared in In the last half hour of the film, it is no longer easy to determine exactly which issue the film focuses on.
Farah Nabulsi has made only two films so far, which have received international appreciation, and despite the decline in the level of her first feature film compared to the short film, we are facing a process that is still in its first steps for a distinctive representation of the Palestinian cause in the world.