Palestinian filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel garnered both acclaim and controversy with his moving and disturbing documentary A World Not Ours.
Showing life in Lebanon’s Ein al-Hilwe camp, it brought to international viewers an insider’s understanding of the despair and disenchantment to be found amongst many Palestinian refugees. One of its main themes was the lack of opportunities for young men who once worked for factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) such as Fatah, but now feel abandoned by the Palestinian Authority and the so-called “peace process.”
A key figure in the documentary, Abu Eyad, insisted that his friend Fleifel show the full force of his anger in the film, saying: “I wish Israel would just massacre us all … We destroyed ourselves. I don’t want to return to Palestine.”
Now, in a short follow-up film, Xenoz, Mahdi Fleifel follows Abu Eyad to Athens, where he fled seeking work. We see this already disillusioned man’s life heading yet further downhill as he finds himself in a country with widespread unemployment and, in the grip of “austerity,” on the brink of social and economic collapse.
Code of honor
“Do you have money?” Fleifel asks his friend in the documentary, named for the Greek word for a stranger. Abu Eyad replies, after laughing bitterly, “I have only God’s mercy, man.”
The film shows Abu Eyad and the loose circle of Arab friends he hangs out with descending into a life of drug use, prostitution and petty theft. Despite this, Abu Eyad determinedly maintains his own code of honor, finding mugging too distressing for him to use as a source of income and rejecting the heroin addiction that snares his companions.
Xenoz (spelled “Xenos” in some releases) has already been shown at a number of film festivals around the world, including those in Toronto, Busan, Stockholm, Abu Dhabi and Sheffield. This harsh yet emotionally complex and sympathetic film is well worth looking out for.