The Dhaka International Film Festival began on Thursday evening with a powerful, but poignant, Palestinian work, 3000 Nights, by Mai Masri. A heart-rending tale of a young Palestinian woman, married and pregnant, is falsely accused of aiding and abetting a revolutionary and thrown into an Israeli prison.
3000 Nights underlines in blazing red how Palestinian prisoners are looked down upon and ill-treated by Israeli soldiers and others, including the jail staff. A burning subject like this could have easily tipped the balance with a director prone to exaggerated ideas of film making. But Masri, well known as a documentary maker (Under the Rubble, Children of Fire, War Generation and Suspended Dreams), took up the megaphone for her debut feature with 3000 Nights, and in a forceful way, lets us peek into the atrocities committed in Israeli detention centres.
Born in Amman, raised in Beirut and with a graduation degree from America, Masri began making documentaries when she returned to the Lebanese capital a little after 1981 -- eventually bridging the chasm between two very different kinds of cinema with 3000 Nights.
Crisply edited in the Hollywood style and mounted with wonderful finesse, 3000 Nights begins in 1980 at Nablus in the occupied West Bank where one night a newly married schoolteacher, Layal, is arrested. She is accused of helping a young boy who is said to have carried out an attack on a military check-post. Layal refuses to tell the court -- in spite of being asked to by her husband and a kind Israeli defence lawyer -- that the boy threatened her and forced his way into her car. She kept insisting that it was purely a humane consideration that pushed her to give the badly injured boy a lift.
Layal is sentenced to a jail term of eight years. In an unforgettable symbolism that is such an integral part of the movie, Layal refuses to terminate her pregnancy, much to the chagrin of her husband, and raises the child. It may seem like defiance, but actually it tells us about the importance of life -- a belief that in the first place stopped her from falsely accusing the wounded boy.
True to this line of thinking, a remarkable change comes over even some of the hardened fellow prisoners the moment Layal’s child is born. Women who had treated her with contempt - and as a terrorist - soften towards her, and the child becomes a darling of the prison, helping to bridge the gap between hatred and love. Everybody wants to play mother to the little one. As a long-haired toddler, the boy finds joy and delight at the kind of toys the prisoners make for him from rags, and at the drawings on the walls that transform the dreary jail atmosphere into one of cheer.
Indeed, a great work to herald a film festival, which for the next nine days will showcase a variety of movies from across the globe, India included.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran will be covering the Dhaka International Film Festival.)
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