November 12th 2020
Film Review

Documentary Review:
An Unusual Summer

        ︎︎︎An Unusual Summer

by Raaktim Nandi
on AMP - Asian Movie Pulse

        Through his use of surveillance camera footage, intertitles and narration, the director looks to build an entire community. Kamal Aljafari is, slowly but surely, becoming a notable face in the experimental genre of filmmaking. A Palestinian filmmaker who is an Israeli citizen due to the many twists and turns in the infamous conflict in his native land, he is currently based in Berlin. From his 2006 debut “The Roof”, he has used film as a tool to record memories, to reflect on such memories and to display them to the audience. His latest documentary, “An Unusual Summer”, follows the same approach.

        It’s July 2006. Three cars are parked on a road outside the director’s house. In the recent past, someone has broke the window of one of the cars, not once or twice, but three times. Irritated, the director’s father installs a surveillance camera overlooking the portion of the road where the cars are parked. The camera, however, winds up doing a greater job. The intention is to capture images of the unknown vandal; it ends up capturing the lifestyle of a community. “Life must be disrupted in order to be revealed,” says the movie, and it does what it states. As the movie continues, a story begins to build up. Intertitles inform us of the characters walking by, thus introducing personalities and building backstories. It is not the only narrative in the movie. A parallel story is seen, through the voice of a child, presumably a representation of the director as a child. The voice speaks the lines, which at times are incomprehensible and at times the symbolism in the words help in enhancing the build-up.

        Aljafari’s real life story is a tale of intrigue, and as a display of the story, the movie cannot help but radiate fascination. At times of the build-up of the backstory, allusions to the the treatment meted out to Palestinians find place. In the end, the poetic movie gains lines of prose, and the message becomes clear. The documentary is highly personal to him, as he dedicates the film to the memory of his father. As his father installed the camera and probably looked through the footage in search of the vandal destroying his car, it is possible that the footage reminds him of his father. Perhaps, by watching the same images that his father once watched, he tries to attain a certain oneness with him, which he believes a viewer of the documentary shall obtain as well.

        The difficulty with Aljafari’s movie comes in two forms. Firstly, the glacial pacing becomes unbearable at times. While the pacing is indeed justified by the meticulous building of an entire community, the second difficulty: the blurry images as seen from the surveillance camera, make it difficult for a viewer to keep their attention going. Conversely, the filmmaker works the footage to complete use. The angles he achieves while displaying the footage, especially not solely through the process of zooming, is wondrous to watch. Even more intriguing is the way the video almost takes the form of an animated feature.

        “An Unusual Summer” is thus a deeply personal creation from the filmmaker. The concept itself piques interest, being an example of human creativity. While the combination of the pacing and the low-res footage may prove to be an obstacle to overcome, the intimacy of the film compels it to become a fulfilling watch.

Kamal Aljafari
All Rights Reserved © 2024
Designed by Chiara Alexandra Young