When_I_Saw_09When I Saw You, the second film from Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir, is a gentle tale of young boy Tarek, who is placed in a refugee camp in Jordan with his mother. Set in 1967, a time when thousands of Palestinian refugees were placed in the camp, Jacir’s film describes the longing felt by the people of Palestine at that time to return to their homes.

Mahmoud Asfa plays Tarek, and is by far the highlight of the film. An intelligent, curious child, Tarek is frustrated by the confines of the grim camp, and is desperate to return home to find his father. He decides to leave, and meets a fedayeen group who take him under their wing, and eventually teach him how to be a soldier.

The main issue with the film that is incredibly hard to ignore, is that the narrative seems to play out as a sort of adventure for Tarek. He has a sense of wondering and adventure to him, which is perfectly natural in a young boy, and yet the adults seem to pander to him in a way that is far beyond the logic of a group of people living in a threatened land. They seem to have very little reluctance to allow him to take part in the group training, or to impose any sort of discipline on him. This of course makes for enjoyable viewing in the sense that the audience are fully immersed in his exploration of his surroundings, but given the context of the film, it doesn’t quite seem natural.

His mother in particular, who Tarek often hints is controlling, in fact seems to just give in to behaviour, and doesn’t even seem overly concerned when he goes missing from the camp for quite some time before she finds them with the soldiers. Maybe her leniency displays her guilt at the loss of his father? Perhaps, but it is somewhat distracting when you consider the real, genuine threat of danger to Tarek’s life.

The film is not without merit however. It looks stunning and the wild nature of the desert echoes the sense of uncertainty. There’s never really a real sense of impending doom, more a sense of wondering what lies in store. The end of the film seems to hint at the possibility of Tarek and his mother returning home, and is incredibly powerful. In a wider sense, Jacir seems to feel hopeful about the future of the people of Palestine.

It’s far less aggressive in its political approach than a lot of other films about the Israel-Palestine conflict, which does make is far more accessible, but again it a little vague on details, and doesn’t quite linger long enough in the mind to make any sort of impact beyond its final frame. However, it must be commended for its attempt to explore a universal truth about the meaning and importance of home.