No one can say that “Mama Mia” is a good movie, can they? Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard. That’s a very strong cast, but this is a musical and no one (and especiallly not Pierce Brosnan) can sing. And the plot is very weird – Streep has a daughter, who does not know who her father is. There seem to be three possibilities, at least according to Streep’s diary, which her daughter happens upon. So, when it’s time for her daughter to marry, she (not Streep, but her daughter) invites her three potential fathers to come (without telling her mother, of course), and, even though the wedding is to take place on a remote Greek island, all three come (not knowing why they are coming, and thinking that Meryl has invited them). It’s really quite awful.
But, you could watch it again and again – all of the actors are photogenic, the setting is even more photogenic, and ABBA’s music is infective. It makes no difference that the movie is awful; it’s a wonderful film.
And then there’s Ajami, the Oscar nominated Israeli Arabic-Hebrew film. It is a very good film, but it is no fun to watch at all. It is set in the Ajami neighborhood of Jaffa (part of Tel Aviv), an impoverished mixed ethnicity area, where nothing good happens. A Muslim shoots another, causing his clan to target the family of the shooter, although they start by killing an innocent neighbor by accident. That does not satisfy this particular Bedouin gang, only a large amount of money would, so that the nephew of the man who started the killing needs to raise money and what better way to do it than dealing with drugs. And then there’s the young man who lives near the West Bank city of Nablus, whose works illegally in Israel at a restaurant owned by a Christian Arab, but whose mother is seriously ill with cancer and needs a bone marrow transplant, which means money, and what better way is there raise money than dealing with drugs? And then there is the Jewish Israeli soldier killed near Nablus, and his brother, an Israeli policeman, who winds up dealing with the violence and drug dealing in Ajami.
If you like movies filled with violence, this is a pretty good one. The actors are non-professional; there was no script. There was simply improvisational training over the course of more than a year before the filming began. And, although this is a movie about Jewish and Arab Israelis, and West Bank Palestinians, in fact it could have been sited elsewhere, any place where poverty is pervasive, ethnic groups in conflict, and drugs in the street. And that’s about anywhere, indeed.
Other thoughts: Jews and Arabs – you can’t tell them apart. Jews, Muslims and Christians – they seem alike in everything other than the identity of whom they like, and whom they hate. Money – very important. Violence, and especially violence stemming from family, or clan, revenge – pervasive. Family – very important. Mothers – long suffering, but loved. Romance – not what it should be, in that the primary romantic relationships are Muslim:Jew and Muslim:Christian.
Good ending – not on your life. Or theirs’.
And, to bring it all together, yes mothers are key. The cancer stricken woman in Nablus. The Jewish mother whose soldier son is killed. The Muslim woman whose family is targeted. And poor, overworked Meryl Streep, who doesn’t even know who the father of her daughter could be.