Port of Memory: An Oblique Demi-Documentary With Surprisingly Vivid Images


An oblique, impressionist portrait of Arabs living in Jaffa, Kamal Aljafari’s Port of Memory is only an hour long, but quietly and atmospherically touches on the Kiarostamian Uncertainty Principle, with Aljafari liberally corrupting his demi-documentary with scripted dialogue, rehearsals, and even digital effects. The film skips about, haphazardly observing as the filmmaker’s Christian Palestinian aunt, uncle, and grandmother pensively stave off being evicted from a house they’ve owned for 40 years while the city’s government-spurred gentrification rolls onward. Aljafari avoids politics, Jews, and narrative; instead, odd smidgens of the quotidian are examined, from his aunt’s obsessive hand-washing and his uncle’s despairing memories of an idealized past to Chuck Norris killing Arabs on TV and a hysterical Vespa rider zooming through the empty streets screaming. Aljafari has a Chris Marker–ian eye, and his images are often surprisingly vivid, even when he drops in chunks of Menahem Golan’s musical Kazablan (1974), and then drops his uncle into them. Accompanying the film are Aljafari’s silent doc short Balconies (a diptych rumination on the balconied vestiges of Ramle) and Ken Jacobs’s magical The Day Was a Scorcher, which subtly fragments and reincarnates family photos from a ’70s Rome excursion into a shuttering, 3-D valentine to the master’s family.