Credit: Kamal Ajafari/IFFR
by Alex Fields Film

UNDR — Kamal Ajafari [IFFR ’24 Review]

February 2, 2024

The tragic history of the Nakba — the Israeli occupation — and the resulting diaspora have led to a distinctive voice among Palestinian experimental filmmakers. A recent generation of artists like Basma Alsharif, Rosalind Nashashibi, and Razan AlSalah have made films that use varied tools, from animation and Google Maps to elusive metaphors and genre film, to express the violence of displacement and the longing for a stolen homeland.

The films of Kamal Aljafari work in this mode, seeking poetically indirect means to express the inexpressible: the ruin of one’s home, a people who exist outside of place and time, the thousand daily incursions through which life has been stolen from Palestine. His latest, UNDR, is constructed largely from wide shots of the landscape, culled from mostly archival material. The camera pans across the landscape from a helicopter or tripod, and observes its controlled demolition. The footage is transparently a hodgepodge cobbled from a variety of sources, and much of it features rocks, ruins, and holes or caverns in the cliffs.

Interspersed throughout are brief shots of farmers at work and of kids playing hide and seek. A girl’s voice can be heard against the empty, rugged hills as she counts to one hundred; a woman hums idly as she works. Beginning from a perspective of calculated distance and austerity, the film becomes heartbreaking precisely in its impersonality as it circles around its themes. The obscured traces of human presence, hidden by montage or the nature of a kids’ game, take on terrible gravitas as they contrast with dozens of explosions that tear apart and reshape the land. The dominant overhead perspective is a constant reminder of the state of surveillance and control of the Palestinians who remain on their land, a living contradiction for an occupying power that seeks to erase a people not just from their land, but from history and memory. UNDR is a collage of images from the past, but it reveals terrible truths that are all too relevant for the present.

Published as part of IFFR 2024 — Dispatch 2.