It is incredible when you walk into a movie that illustrates a situation happening thousands of miles away and realize that its events are much closer to the ones happening right at home, or in my case, in my own Dominican Republic, a country where I lived in for almost 20 years and who had its own shares of political violence against its resistors and who is today, trying to rebuild itself from the ashes of a dark yesterday.
Rana Kazkaf and Anaz Khalaf’s The Translator posits a stark reality for its exiled protagonist. Sami (Ziad Bakri), a Syrian exile living a life of privilege in Sydney, Australia, becomes drawn back to his country of origin when his brother Zaid goes missing following an arrest. The arrest seems to be linked to the 2000 Olympics when Sami (allegedly deliberately) mistranslated a blink or miss passage that sealed his fate. Having to see a video that shows Zaid being hauled off to an unknown fate (and potentially be disappeared as his own father was years ago when Sami was a boy) shakes Sami out of his zone and leads him into action.
Upon arriving, however, Sami has little time to breathe and becomes witness of just how dangerous the situation is. Reconnecting with his sister Karma (Yunna Marwan) is bitter; she blames his absence and that as a translator he is a hider — one who doesn’t speak his own words, when words equal the truth. Sami attempts to seek help anywhere he can, but it seems, no one can be trusted, and the more he stays, the less likely he might be able to leave.
If I had not seen the Q & A following The Translator I would have assumed this was based on actual facts. That is how sharp, how urgent, how “ripped from the headlines” Kazkaz’s and Khalaf’s movie looks. You could almost confuse it for actual news, or a risky, guerrilla-style documentary, with every shot filled with tension, its characters in a vicious struggle against oppression while those who do so loom over the narrative and give the movie a sense of inescapable doom.
The movie’s true meaning reveals itself later in the movie and it will resonate at a global level. A book containing documents of peaceful protests that get squashed by the military and the police becomes a weapon of truth — a truth we all know too well. The famous Kent State picture of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the body of Jeffrey Miller makes a striking cameo appearance. We then realize this is not just a “Syrian” problem but ours as well, and it reflects itself over and over into recent history when seeing how Charlottesville ended and how our own peaceful protests have been targeted for being dangerous.
The Translator has no release date in the US. If it shows up at a film festival near you please go see it. [A]