I Love NY: Politics, Romance, Paranoia, and Bottle Service Work Together in The Imperialists Are Still Alive!


Asya (Élodie Bouchez)—a Bosnian/Palestinian/Jordanian/Lebanese artist who’s first seen posing for a self-portrait as a revolutionary, naked from the headscarf down—begins a whirlwind romance with a Mexican law student. Meanwhile, she learns that her Saudi first love has disappeared amid whispers of rendition and that her brother is trapped in Beirut because of Israeli bombers. Her early-relationship paranoia dovetails with her political paranoia; her social life evolves from talking revolution over bottle service to watching Al Jazeera in the back of a bodega. A fluid 16mm mood piece, The Imperialists Are Still Alive! reveals writer-director Zeina Durra’s eye for loaded tableaux and her talent for gleaning one-liners from both the subtle racial profiling woven into everyday life and highly specific examples of culture clash bordering on the absurd (an Iraqi woman fresh off a plane from Baghdad enters Asya’s trendily deconstructed Manhattan live-work loft and mutters, “What a dump”). The class-conscious Manhattan-nightlife comedies of Whit Stillman (who cameos) are an obvious influence on Durra’s skewering of both the rich and the rhetorically ridiculous, but her tone is so bone-dry that her jokes are often absorbed by the fabric of the film. Occasionally, Durra loses her nerve and spells out her intentions, but she’s at her best when both her commentary and her comedy are nearly imperceptible.